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Davis, California

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Column: Eating disorders

Summer is approaching fast and for many that means one thing: bathing suit season. Soon the ARC will be packed more than usual as everyone tries to get in shape. Time will come when you want to shed pounds so you’ll look better as you shed your winter coat. Just be careful at how far your attempts to look good go – it is one thing to lose the winter weight and another to be unhealthy.

Last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness week. The Active Minds club on campus spent the week tabling to provide information. Eating disorders are more than just anorexia and bulimia, they are indicative of other disorders in a person’s life. This is the message of the week that Active Minds is trying to promote.

“The goal of our club is to promote conversations about mental disorders because it’s difficult to raise awareness of mental health if people are afraid to talk so we try to break the stigma and make people comfortable,” said Fan Wang, an undeclared junior who is outreach chair of Active Minds.

Eating disorders fall in the mental health category because they aren’t only about eating; a majority of the time it’s a control issue. Emma Lam, fifth-year psychology and human development major, is another outreach chair for Active Minds.

“A lot of patients report that by not eating or excessively eating they [feel that they] can gain control of their body weight,” Lam said. “That’s psychological, not just purely physical.”

A lot of people don’t realize that you can have a relationship with food the same way you have relationships with people. Your relationship with food plays out in eating habits and choices. Food is often used as a control mechanism by people because it is something one can control when they feel like they can’t control other aspects of their lives.

This goes for overindulging and restricting food intake – either way, it’s your hand putting or not putting the food in your mouth. It works the same way with how you interact, or choose not to interact, with people in your life. The only difference is that food will never leave you and you always have the power to leave food – making it the perfect object for manipulation and control.

Many people turn to food for comfort when they’re hurting or experiencing emotional pain. This goes beyond the stereotypical heartbroken girl eating gallons of ice cream after her boyfriend dumps her. For some that may be a one-time coping mechanism, but it can also be a gateway experience toward relying on food for comfort and subsequently a potential eating disorder.

One of the greatest difficulties with eating disorders is that they aren’t just starvation or overindulgence.

“It has many different types,” Wang said. “It’s not a single behavior. Eating disorders have many forms. They’re prevalent even though we don’t see it … it is psychological [and] can coexist with other people’s experiences.”

Eating disorders are characterized by how a person feels and their motivation behind their actions. This is the key factor in determining a bad relationship from a healthy one. When do you turn to or away from food?

The purpose of National Eating Disorder Awareness week is to bring these ideas to the forefront of our minds. When people begin to look at their eating habits and their relationship with food, it enables them to be aware of what is normal for them and what isn’t.

Lam said members of Active Minds hoped that by promoting National Eating Disorder Awareness week people would “understand and [have] a more accurate definition of eating disorders [than] what they see on TV or hear from friends. [We] hope people won’t be scared of finding out if they have one or deny it, [because] getting help is important.”

Counseling and Psychological Services on campus is there for any student and can offer counseling for eating disorders. They also have the ability to refer you to a specialist if needed. Don’t be afraid to use their services if you think you might need help.

As someone who hasn’t always had the best relationship with food and was on the borderline of having an eating disorder, I strongly suggest knowing what “normal” eating habits are. It’s difficult to determine when your relationship with food is changing when you don’t know how it is normally.

I’m all for diet and exercise to maintain an appropriate body weight, but I also love eating cupcakes until I pass out in a food coma. If you feel the need to spring into shape for houseboats and summer fun, I only hope that you do so in a healthy and safe manner.

To eat cupcakes or not to eat cupcakes? Answer SABRINA VIGIL’s question at svvigil@ucdavis.edu.


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