The road to recovery after developing an eating disorder

Kevin Hendricks

Of the many issues college students contend with on a daily basis, one issue particularly detrimental to a student’s health are eating disorders.

Jennifer Lombardi, the executive director at the Eating Recovery Center of California located in Sacramento, estimates 25 percent of college students have an eating disorder.

Typically, a plethora of things contribute to the development of an eating disorder, according to The National Institute of Mental Health.

“Eating disorders are caused by a combination of several factors,” Lombardi said. “Genetics, such as anxiety or depression; cultural issues, such as a pressure to achieve an unrealistic body image or high expectations to excel academically or in a sport; family dynamics, which could include conflict or enmeshment; personality traits, such as conflict-avoidance, perfectionism and sensitivity to criticism; and trauma or loss.”

Though there are a number of different eating disorders in existence, there are three prominent types to serve as umbrella terms for the rest: Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

With each disorder being harmful in its own way, anorexia nervosa appears to be labeled as the most feared, with 60-year-old Ronald Lutz, Ph.D., who serves as the clinical director of counseling at Student Health and Counseling Services, describing it as a “condition that can be life-threatening.”

Jennifer Campbell, the lead dietician in Student Health and Counseling Services, echoes Lutz’ sentiments.

“More people die from anorexia nervosa than all other psychiatric disorders put together. If you are concerned about yourself or a friend, don’t wait to seek help,” Campbell said. “The earlier an eating disorder is treated, the more likely a person will have complete physical and emotional recovery.”

As each eating disorder differs in how it is characterized, there is not yet a singular definition. However, there are some unifying signs that are common throughout the varying disorders.

Kathleen Deegan, a registered dietician who teaches in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences on campus, states binge-eating, excessive exercising and usage of laxatives are just a few signs that a person might be battling an eating disorder.

Deegan also touches on the fact many people associate eating disorders with women, which she points out as a common misconception, as many men take supplements to achieve what they believe is the ideal body.

“Men are trying to get bigger. There’s this concept among the young males now that they should all bulk up like the Rock,” Deegan said. “It is literally this high-protein thing where men believe they can make more muscle if they consume higher amounts of protein. That is just not true. There is a limit to that, and actually, very high protein diets are actually detrimental.”

While there are no groups that are exempt from developing an eating disorder, Campbell points out certain events in the lives of students may make them more susceptible to develop an eating disorder.

“College students have added stressors- school, finances, work-that may put them at risk for eating disorders. They may have independent control over their food for the first time. They are meeting new friends and want to be accepted by their peers which may put added pressure to look and dress a certain way. They may try dieting for the first time,” Campbell said.

While struggling with an eating disorder is taxing at any stage in life, Lombardi makes it known that eating disorders do not have to rule a persons life.

Lombardi, who won her own fight with anorexia, acknowledges that it is not always easy, but expressed her gratitude at being able to recover from her eating disorder and lead a rich and fruitful life.

“I feel very solid in my recovery process. 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,” Lombardi said. “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 the ample amount of resources and organizations are available to those who struggle with an eating disorder, including some that may be found on school campuses. She urges anyone who struggles or knows someone who is struggling to seek immediate professional help.

“Many colleges have on-campus resources including counseling services, which can be a good first step to offer advice, support and recommendations for treatment. If an eating disorder escalates, students should consult with the professionals at a facility specializing in eating disorder care,” Lombardi said.