by Mallory Butcher, staff writer

SEPTEMBER 2021 – Guilty. Empty. Fat. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, the fear of obesity weighs on four out of every five children as young as 10 years old. About one in every 10 people suffer from some form of eating disorder. Teens especially are one of the hardest-hit groups by these problems.

Eating disorders are characterized by disruptive behaviors while eating that cause some form of distress. An infamous example is anorexia nervosa, a disorder where one starves themselves and causes extreme weight loss. Eating disorders are often co-diagnosed with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other anxiety disorders.

 A jar of peanut butter and a bunch of bananas sit on a scale next to a glass plate holding cucumbers, bread, an apple, and a cheese stick. People with eating disorders often weigh their food to get exact proportions or keep track of their own weight. Photo by Mallory Butcher, staff writer.

“I always had an issue with my body image,” Sophomore Alyssa Swidas said. “I just wouldn’t eat at all, and then sometimes, I would be so starving I’d just go sneak in the cabinets and eat everything. Like I’d just get so hungry.” 

In her early teen years, Swidas developed bulimia nervosa, a condition where one will eat an abnormally large amount of food, only to then compensate for the caloric intake using various means. This compensation can include self-induced vomiting, strenuous physical activity, laxatives, fasting, or a combination of the above. These behaviors are also called bingeing and purging.

Swidas also brought up that while she was untreated, her issues with anxiety and depression spiked. She commented, “I would get sick and nauseous and shaky and I would get like really — I didn’t know how to act, I was, like, bipolar, tired, and then I was wide awake.” 

Another student, Sophomore Trever Baldwin, also struggled with eating disorders, but in his family, he was not alone.

“I was very young at the time,” Baldwin recalled from memories of his older sister. “I did notice that she’d be gone for some periods of time and that her toothbrushes were really, like smashed down because she would throw up.” 

Baldwin’s sister, similar to Swidas, developed bulimia nervosa in her early teen years. People with this condition may brush their teeth aggressively to mask the smell of vomit from their breath.

Baldwin’s own condition, pica, started at a young age when he would eat things such as but not limited to paper. Pica is a condition that causes a person to crave certain things, even though those items are not food. Pica is suspected to be caused by a nutrient deficiency, but stress is another factor in development. 

According to Baldwin, sawdust, wood, pencils, and materials similar to glass are often targeted by those with pica. He explained, “Particularly with sawdust and stuff, it’s really bad for your digestive system, and something that I had experienced when I was littler was popsicle sticks. You chew them up, and they get strainy and splintery, and you can chew them up more and they turn into a paste. That ends up splintering your insides, and you get a really bad stomach ache, and it just lasts for days.” 

As mental health information becomes widespread, those with conditions can more quickly identify symptoms and find help. However, according to both students, education on the topic scales from lacking to non-existent.

“Not even a little bit,” laughed Baldwin when asked about any education he had received. “I knew about pica, and I didn’t know why I had it or what it was, and I knew my sister had something but nobody ever told me what was going on with other people and myself.” 

Symptoms vary from disorder to disorder, and each person has had their own experiences, but some of the most common symptoms include vitamin deficiency, major weight loss, dizziness or fainting, heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux, anxiety, depression, irritability, exhaustion, fear of/embarrassment eating with others, dental or bone decay, and sessions of rapid, uncomfortable eating. If you or someone you know has shown these symptoms, talk to a doctor, a dietitian, a therapist, or a medical professional right away.

Healing in the aftermath of an eating disorder can pose difficulty to many attempting the process. Activities one might find mundane, such as having breakfast or eating out can induce anxiety. For many, eating with others can become a challenge. Those recovering can experience relapses or temptations to do so. 

Swidas concluded, “It’s hard to keep on top of, you know, eating on a schedule because I’d avoid it, but I started really small by eating something small normally like a granola bar and then going to lunch and eating a little bit and then, you know, eating at a good time every day, like at the same time, instead of avoiding, you know, of course.”

To those currently struggling or attempting recovery from an eating disorder, help can be found contacting the National Eating Disorders Association and the Hopeline Network.

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