TD: To follow up on the last question, what are some of the biggest misconceptions you have noticed about body image and eating disorders in college populations? (i.e., being that many males and females with eating disorders are of normal weight, eating disorders often are inconspicuous)
JM: Definitely one of the main misconceptions is that all people who have an eating disorder are emaciated or don’t eat anything at all. The truth is that most people who have an eating disorder are of a normal weight, or may even be over-weight. Sometimes people will say “Well, I don’t think they have an eating disorder because I see them eat.” You have no idea how that person is eating when they are alone, or if they are engaging in any unhealthy behaviors trying to compensate for what they have eaten. Also, eating disorders can have very serious medical consequences, regardless of what the person weighs. I think the other misconception is that eating disorders only affect white females. In truth, men and women of all ages, races, sexual orientations and cultures are susceptible to developing an eating disorder. One of the most publicized myths about college is that people will inevitably gain the “Freshman 15” if they aren’t vigilant about their eating and exercise; in truth, research has shown that freshman may gain 2-5 lbs. on average. Some of that is related to ongoing maturation; most people do not look the same as they did when the graduate college as they did when they entered college because their bodies continue to develop, so it would be normal to gain a couple of pounds. Finally, there is also some mythology around the idea that some eating disorder behaviors are “normal”. In fact, eating disorder symptoms of any level of severity are very serious signs that should be considered a red flag that the person is struggling and in need of support.
“In truth, men and women of all ages, races, sexual orientations and cultures are susceptible to developing an eating disorder.”
TD: Eating disorders are most often thought to be a disease privy to females even though males also suffer. Do you feel that there is more underreporting of eating disorders by males in the college population as well as the general population?
JM: Because eating disorders have historically been associated with females, I do think that some men who are presenting with eating disorder symptoms may be misdiagnosed or overlooked by some healthcare providers. There may also be more shame associated with an eating disorder for males, which may make them feel uncomfortable seeking support. Hopefully, as people become more educated about eating disorders, this will become less stigmatizing and enable men to recognize that there are treatment options available to them.
TD: What colleges have access to The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt’s college outreach program and where/how can students get more information?
JM: Any college or university is able to access our services. Anyone who is hoping to find out more can contact Jennifer Moran, Psy.D., the college liaison, at 410-938-5252 or by email at [email protected]
Special thanks to Public Relations Account Executive Ashley Boarman for coordinating the interview.