Eating disorders: myths and truths


freshman15-1:While many students spend their time worrying about mythical phenomena like Freshman 15, they fail to realize other harmful eating disorders. Sacramento State?s nutritionist tells all about the dangers of eating binges, manorexia, negative stereotypes and what students can do to overcome them. :Megan Harris – State Hornet

Leia Ostermann

Body Wars:

Life changes in college. Moving out, stressing over classes, buying your own food and paying for rent all factor into a major lifestyle change. Freshman year of college comes with the fear of the Freshman 15, the drastic weight gain phenomenon.

“The Freshman 15 is a myth,” said Jennifer Lombardi, director of Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program. “The myth persists because the media starts talking about it. Going away is stressful enough without the fear of weight gain. Freshman 15 sets the stage for eating disorder development and an unhealthy perspective on our bodies.”

Sacramento State nutritionist Kalyn Coppedge said the Freshman 15 is merely the Hollywood version of what college is like.

“It is a media thing; Freshman 15 gets blown out of proportion until everyone thinks that is what college is about. It’s an assumption. Not everyone that goes to college becomes a binge drinker either,” Coppedge said.

The fear of weight gain and the age of students make them a high risk group for eating disorders, Lombardi said.

“When students were in high school they were active with sports or P.E. and mom and dad were preparing healthy food. Now on their own, students have to relearn all of that,” Coppedge said.

Nationally, one in five college students have eating disorder symptoms, she said.

“The American College Health Association conducted a Health Assessment at CSUS last spring. They reported approximately 2.3 percent of students have used laxatives or vomiting to lose weight in the last 30 days, 3.7 percent take diet pills, 42 percent diet and about 4 percent experienced an eating disorder or problem in the last year,” Coppedge said.

More commonly seen is binge eating, and disordered eating habits, both of which can lead to a more serious disorder as well as medical problems, Lombardi said.

Besides an overall impact on your health, disordered eating can lead to less energy, disrupted sleep, cardiac risk, osteoporosis and other sometimes irreversible effects, Lombardi said.

Disorders common on campus include excessive workouts, often termed “manorexia” because this has become more prevalent among men, although women struggle with it as well, Lombardi said.

“Men think they not only want to be ripped, but perfectly toned and perfectly cut, not too skinny and not too muscular,” Coppedge said.

Lombardi said this disorder is very difficult to identify since it is socially acceptable for a man to want to spend hours at the gym, but this disorder can lead to serious repercussions on one’s body.

There are many reasons that eating disorders are developed, Lombardi said. These include the five problem areas: genetics, personality, trauma, family dynamics and culture.

“It is said that genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger,” Lombardi said.


Lombardi understands eating disorders, not only because she received a master’s degree in counseling, but she also struggled with anorexia as a teen.

Lombardi said eating disorders are caused by a variety of things, such as anxiety or depression, a high expectation to achieve an unrealistic body image, family conflict or trauma and loss and personality traits such as perfectionism and sensitivity to criticism.

“Primarily my temperament was biologically wired to put me at risk. Classic personality traits, such as people-pleasing, conflict avoidance and a high drive for achievement sets the stage genetically. Add to this a series of personal losses, and the environment triggered my developing an eating disorder as a means of coping,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi’s disorder began when she was 17 and continued into college where she majored in government and journalism at Sac State.

Lombardi was approached by the family physician who compassionately but firmly pointed out the imbalances in her life.

“It was a wake up call for me and I began to recognize that it was a problem,” Lombardi said. “The majority of individuals struggling, myself included, can identify at any point in time that the eating disorder is dangerous and unhealthy. Most people who are struggling are scared and cannot imagine their lives without an eating disorder. Having the support from loved ones coupled with effective, comprehensive treatment provides the person with the best chance of not only accepting treatment, but achieving full recovery,” she said.

Lombardi now works with eating disorders and disorder eating in men and women between the ages of 7-67. Lombardi has been on her own road to recovery for the last 17 years.

The recovery process is lengthy, Lombardi said that sometimes she wanted to get better and sometimes she did not but that things were easier after the five-year mark in her recovery.

“I have the support that I need, and being 17 years away from that life, I can say with absolute confidence that I do not want it back. I realize what I would have to give up &- relationships, connections, my body and mind &- in order to go back to the disorder,” Lombardi said.

She said healing comes when patients, like her, become more engaged in their life and less engaged in their eating disorder.

“Staying connected and pursuing what it is that you love are two of the best predictors for staying recovered,” she said.

For college students disordered eating and bad habits of exercise and food are extremely prevalent of college campuses, Lombardi said.

“If you know someone that is struggling, don’t wait to talk to them about it,” she said. “Jot down concerns and be very factual about it. People are prone to this not because they are freshmen but because of personality or conflict or genetics or family life or culture.”

Body Images:

It is rare today for people to feel positive about their body image due to idealized media images of the body, Coppedge said.

This fear of weight is a beauty ideal that is unattainable but the root issue of these unhealthy body images can be fought by healthy lifestyle patterns and an awareness of the negative influences of media, Coppedge said.

“You have this idea of what your body could be from the media, but it is not realistic, no one achieves that. It is called PhotoShop and advertising and manipulation,” Coppedge said. “Once you realize that people are just trying to manipulate you, you get kind of mad and can’t believe what they are trying to trick you into thinking.”

Besides media, the way we communicate to others about our weight ideals can promote unhealthy body images, Lombardi said. Our society is the most educated it has ever been about eating disorders and healthy lifestyles, Lombardi said, and yet we have a huge and rising rate of childhood obesity and eating disorders.

“It comes down to fact versus fiction in regards to food. Most of what you read in our culture is completely inaccurate,” Lombardi said.

The biggest myth is the breakfast one, Coppedge said, which can lead to over eating later in the day and eventually gaining weight.

Nutritionists advise analyzing your diet as the first step in analyzing whether or not you have disordered eating thoughts or habits and then to make changes on a preventive level, Sac State nutritionist Sharon Schultz said.


With the opening of The Well, there are many more opportunities to seek counsel from medical professionals.

These services are covered by student fees, Coppedge said.

Coppedge said if the eating disorder is serious enough, then patients have to be referred off campus to a more intensive treatment facility, which is where medical insurance must step in to cover costs.

“Insurance coverage has improved significantly in the last few years since some mental health conditions are treated as medical conditions,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi said insurance covers almost 100 percent of the bill for anorexia and bulimia, but is hesitant to cover binge eating.

“Binge eating is one of the biggest American problems but insurance often does not cover intensive treatment, just gastric bypasses. However, these can fail and the root problem still exists,” Lombardi said.

Treatment is a process takes an average of 2 to 5 years, she said.

“Insurance companies are being short-sighted. They are going to end up footing the bill for expensive surgeries if they don’t fund a significant chunk of intensive treatment up front,” Lombardi said.

Treatment involves many different components including a physician to manage the medical symptoms, a dietician and an emotional counselor, all of which are available at The Well, Coppedge said.

Group counseling is also available as well as peer counseling.

“Dealing with the issue and talking to a peer about it helps you to look at the whole picture. What other uses does your body have? Your body is not just for looks. There is stuff your body can do that you don’t want to take for granted,” said Gina Profita, a junior nutrition major and peer counselor.

Leia Ostermann can be reached at [email protected]