This spring break, I found myself in the most culturally rich and buttery rich city: Paris. I also quickly found that croissants or “calorie-dense pieces of air,” as my friend so accurately named them, were addicting. In fact, they were so addicting that my travel companions, and I managed to inhale at least four every single morning just to start off our day right. Those sometimes crispy and gently sweet treats were hard to resist, but we’d always succumb to the temptation.
However, one morning, we began to question our blissful indulgences. It seemed glaringly sinful all of a sudden. Despite being in a country known for its pastries and spending the past three days innocently inhaling croissants, there was a dreadful and loaded question of whether we were indulging a bit too much. Clothes that fit fine before seemed a bit tighter, zippers had to be loosened and the morning routine now seemed to come with a heavy consequence. It was a gross moment that took me back to high school and my first year of college — the days of my judgmental and hatefully restrictive relationship with food. I was taken back to the feeling of disgust towards my body that drove me to eat a meal a day, limit water intake and work out for hours on end with a final judgment on the scale.
An eating disorder is characterized by extremes in eating behavior. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder are the most common forms of eating disorders. Approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in United States alone experience an eating disorder at one point in their lives. It’s a merciless product of living in a world that’s dictated by physical appearances. Seeing how that can become crippling enough to ruin a relationship with food is devastating. It doesn’t stop with the self-destructive act. Eating disorders also affect our GPAs, lowering them and even increasing the probability of dropping out of school.
NYU Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Andrea Vazzana told the National Alliance on Mental Illness that eating disorders don’t exclusively affect young adults; middle aged men and women are also being diagnosed.
Despite there being a heavy emphasis by many nutritionists on recognizing the signs of eating disorders, the lack of open discussion among individuals seem to be the main catalyst for remaining silent.
The sensitivity of the subject and the silence that follows it for many is a roadblock to seek help. While struggling with orthorexia, a condition characterized by obsessing over misguided ‘healthful’ eating, in high school, Gallatin sophomore Cara Griffin constantly focused on whether or not people in her life would find out about her weight, which fluctuated throughout the years. Now at NYU, Griffin found comfort in sharing with her friends and peers her struggles associated with food.
“I did not feel like I had to be constantly on the defense regarding whether I was consuming enough of each macronutrient — proteins, fats, and carbohydrates,” Griffin said. “[The] struggles regarding food became more apparent, and I find myself thinking about [orthorexia] more and more.”
The remnants of a restrictive diet have followed to the dining halls for some. LS sophomore Alice Lammers used to have a very unhealthy relationship with food before college and despite being more mindful, finds it still difficult to eat healthier.
“But now … I don’t know that I’d say it’s healthier, but it’s somewhat less restrictive,” Lammers said. “I hate to sit down and eat a full meal at once because it feels like binging, and because of the meal swipe system, you kind of have to do that. You can’t really nosh or eat at your own pace.”
And this is a struggle Lammers has seen the majority of her female friends go through as well.
“All of them have been struggling with dietary control and eating disorders or overeating since [the beginning] college,” Lammers said.
Steinhardt sophomore Jamie Kim had a tumultuous journey leaving high school and entering college. With a long history of body dysmorphia since late elementary school, she’s always struggled to have a good relationship with food.
“I think my relationship with food has fluctuated a lot since high school but has overall remained pretty negative,” Kim said. “I was constantly beating myself up for just eating.”
After brutally enduring a routing of eating a mere 700 calories a day and burning 200 to 300 at the gym to lose weight, she felt happier about her body and began to allow herself to loosen up. However, Kim reminiscences that it wasn’t a time in her life that made her go back to a normal eating habit.
“But because I restricted myself for so long, I think I began to binge as it became something that I had to make up for from a year of essentially not eating anything that was pleasurable,” Kim said. “My lack of knowledge of healthy recipes plus my constant binging led to me regaining the 35 pounds I had lost in high school, and that really messed up my body dysmorphia as I suddenly gained a large amount of weight.”
Being thin has become equated to success and happiness, making the independence of college life and the daunting pressure to succeed easy triggers.
“It’s interesting in a terribly sad and unfortunate way to see that we all think of ourselves as ugly or unattractive or even undeserving, but when we mention our self-hatred to each other, we all think the other person is beautiful and deserving of so much love,” Kim said.
I never realized I had an eating disorder until the end of my first year of college. It was a slow but critical change to seeing food as an experience and seeing how sharing that moment with people could be comforting. There was beauty in food in allowing my body to intake it. Approximately every hour, eating disorders take someone’s life. Opening up a conversation and finding solidarity within dialogue has the potential to change that. Eating and self-love shouldn’t be mutually-exclusive.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association at (800) 931- 2237 or find out more here.