How So Many Women Develop Eating Disorders During College

Our society still forces women into the terrible position of becoming obsessed with their bodies, because to be otherwise is looked at as some kind of personal neglect. As girls grow up and move through school body shaming gets pretty serious. Around middle school, as women move through puberty it becomes brutal, and it only seems to worsen through the years as a woman ages. In college the notion that most women will gain quite a bit of weight once they start college is widespread in our culture. It’s a common perception that is taken as a universal thing that women must ward against at all costs.

This is just one of the reasons that women, most of whom are already burgeoning on developing some kind of eating disorder, ends up with some kind of eating disorder, or an addiction to drugs or alcohol, or both – resulting in a dual diagnosis. Even if a woman gets through college without an eating disorder, the likelihood of them getting an eating disorder is still there as they continue through life as women are judged by their weight their entire life.


Eating Disorders & Other Mental Illnesses As A Result of Early Abuse

It is a well known fact that so many people who struggle with addiction to alcohol and addiction to drugs do so because of a trauma they experienced, they are hurting and need some form of relief, or possibly their tendency comes from genetics. Either way, if someone suffers from an eating disorder they are likely to eventually develop a drug or alcohol habit as well. Drugs and alcohol can become someone’s place of relief if they don’t have healthy coping skills in place. This is the place so very many women are in as they grown into adulthood after a childhood of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse.


Abuse can cause feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, deep shame, and loneliness. If the abuse began when the woman was quite young, she may have developed abnormal coping skills that include eating disorders, disassociation, obsessive compulsive disorder, attachment disorder, or any number of different kinds of mental health disorder. In fact, early abuse of any kind can greatly alter a human’s brain physiological development.


All of this almost inevitably results in a person who is plagued by shame, anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. Sometimes they have flashbacks and nightmares, or insomnia. They may end up with any different kind of eating disorder or engage in self harm. And one of the most common symptoms of this kind of trauma is addiction to alcohol and drugs.


What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are a well documented and widespread disorder among all kinds of people living in Florida and the throughout the wider United States. Approximately 8 million citizens in the United States suffer from documented cases of some kind of noted eating disorder and that number only represents the women who have reported their cases.

I’m sure it’s true that thousands of other cases exist. The stigma that comes with eating disorders very well may keep many people who are suffering from the disorder from feeling like they are safe getting help. This is especially true of those who suffer from a dual diagnosis of addiction to drugs or alcohol. But the life threatening effects of both eating disorders and substance abuse makes treatment for either disease absolutely a matter of life or death – when you combine an eating disorder and a drug or alcohol addiction, the need for effective medical and therapeutic treatment becomes even more vital than before.

The first course of action for someone suffering from both an eating disorder and substance abuse must be to seek out alcohol and drug detoxification and alcohol and drug rehabilitation. In detox and rehab centers in Florida psychiatric services are available along with medical treatment and should be more than able to treat both disorders effectively with the help of a licensed medical staff and qualified therapists.


How Dangerous Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are more life threatening than any other mental health disorder out there. A study from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports to the scientific community the devastating truth that anywhere from five to ten percent of those who struggle with anorexia nervosa die after as few as ten years of suffering from the disease, some even before that. And that’s not all, even if someone suffering from an eating disorder lives more than ten years, they still are at risk because anywhere from eighteen to twenty percent of people suffering from an eating disorder succumb to the disease and die after twenty years.

Some other people who suffer from the disease can and do die early through suicidal means. Unfortunately the recovery rate is not really much more encouraging, as only thirty to forty percent of people suffering from any kind of eating disorder ever really reach remission from the disease. Maybe that is because only about ten percent of those who are dealing with eating disorders ever receive proper treatment from the disease so they can heal and recover. Whether this is a matter of the cost of treatment available to them, an issue of availability of treatment at all, or the stigma that comes along with the disorder the numbers are tragic. No matter how you look at the numbers surrounding eating disorders, it is clear that this country, and indeed the sunshine state itself, has some serious work to do around the way we treat women, the way they see their bodies as they grow and as a result of trauma.

According to American Psychiatric Association “Eating disorders are illnesses in which the people experience severe disturbances in their eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. People with eating disorders typically become preoccupied with food and their body weight.”


Common Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa – Someone who suffers from anorexia nervosa very likely views themselves as obese, in spite of what their body weight is, or what they look like in the mirror. The person suffering from the disease likely has become obsessed with their weight. They may end up weighing themselves on a scale, sometimes some people end up weighing themselves multiple times a day. Anorexia nervosa is the eating disorder that has the highest fatality rate of any other eating disorder. Therefore, especially with women, anorexia nervosa is one of the deadliest of mental health disorders one can develop. Many people die from the complications due to the disorder. Complications such as a depressed cardiac system or starvation but many others die by suicidal means.


Signs & Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa:

  • Highly restricted diet
  • Extreme emaciation
  • Obsession with becoming thinner
  • Body dysmorphia or a distortion of the way one’s body looks
  • Low self esteem
  • A sense of self loathing
  • Anemia
  • Brittle nails and hair
  • Dry and yellowing skin
  • Osteoporosis
  • Constipation from dehydration
  • Diminished brain function
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Exhaustion
  • Infertility
  • Malnutrition
  • Irregular body temperature
  • Organ failure
  • Irregular menstrual periods


Bulimia Nervosa – Unlike anorexia nervosa, a person who is struggling with bulimia nervosa finds themselves less focused on abstaining from eating, and more focused on purging the food and calories from their system after they consume large amounts of food. People with bulimia nervosa generally purge after each meal. They frequently have incidents of eating substantial amounts of food in short periods of time. These sorts of binge eating episodes causes the person suffering from bulimia nervosa to feel out of control. This disorder like all eating disorders is not a choice that the afflicted person can just decide to stop choosing. Sometimes people treat those suffering from an eating disorder like they are choosing the illness, like they could just stop what they are doing. This stigma is heartbreaking, it causes many feelings of self hatred and self loathing particularly after an episode of binging and purging takes place. The fact is that these people already feel great amounts of despair and shame – the terrible stigma that society surrounds people who are struggling with the disorder with only compounds the deep pain of these diseases.


In order to purge after a person struggling from bulimia nervosa has overeaten in a binging session, people can take a few different kinds actions, including but not necessarily limited to self induced vomiting the use of a laxative or diuretics, prolonged periods of fasting, of extreme amounts of exercise or a combination of any of these activities. Unlike the emaciation of anorexia nervosa bulimia nervosa victims of bulimia nervosa can usually maintain a more normal appearing body weight.


Signs & Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa:

  • Unrelenting raw throat
  • Swollen glands like the salivary glands in the neck and throat
  • Damaged teeth causing diminished enamel and tooth decay
  • Heightened sensitivity in the person’s teeth due to self induced vomiting
  • Cavities
  • Severe dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Acid reflux
  • Gastrointestinal complications
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Stroke
  • Cardiac and Heart complications
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Heartburn
  • Guilt
  • Mood swings
  • Bad breath
  • Abnormal menstrual periods


Binge Eating Disorder – Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder that has taken a long time to be called what it is, a mental health disorder. A chronic and devastating illness. To this day the disorder comes with a serious stigma of public ridicule and the person is often the butt of endless jokes. Binge eating disorder is characterized by a loss of control around a person’s eating habits, an obsession of one’s weight, and a constant craving for food. Binge eating disorder is unlike bulimia nervosa in that the person suffering from binge eating disorder though they binge eat they do not purge afterward – there’s no fasting, vomiting, or intense exercise in an effort to counteract the calories. As a result the person suffers from different side effects including being overweight or obese. Some people also suffer from different medical side effects such as diabetes, cardiac, liver, or joint trouble. Not to mention the intense shame and self hatred.


Signs & Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder:

  • Episodes of binging large amounts of food in a short period of time
  • Eating past a feeling of fullness and into a feeling of discomfort
  • Rapid eating habits
  • Eating in secret
  • Hiding food
  • Feelings of self loathing shame & guilt
  • Frequent often unsuccessful dieting
  • Obsession with weight loss without making progress toward a healthy weight
  • Diabetes
  • Heartburn
  • Exhaustion
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irregular menstrual period


Lesser common Eating Disorders

Pica – Pica is a more uncommon eating disorder that is characterized by the afflicted person eating inedible things like paint, hair, mud, or even chalk. To be diagnosed with Pica someone must have persistently eaten substances like these that do not offer nutritional value for more than a month long period. This eating disorder usually accompanies another mental health disorder such as an intellectual disability, schizophrenia, or can sometimes occur at the same time with autism spectrum disorder. Though people with pica habitually consume inedible foods they are not necessarily opposed to eating food like someone with anorexia nervosa would be. The cravings they feel are physical in nature. If someone is experiencing such cravings they should contact a physician immediately.


Signs & Symptoms of Pica

  • The consistent consumption of non-food elements such as

    • paper
    • soap
    • chalk
    • hair
    • string
    • cloth
    • wool
    • paint
    • gum
    • metal
    • charcoal
    • ash
    • clay
    • starch
    • ice
    • soil
    • string
    • talcum powder
    • pebbles
    • rocks
  • Anemia
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Complications due to the toxicity of the consumed element


Rumination Disorder – Rumination disorder is characterized by someone who frequently and repeatedly regurgitates their undigested or partly digested foods. The person struggling with the disorder re-chews the substance, then they either spit the substance out or swallow it all over again. Regurgitation happens within half an hour of every occurrence of eating food and usually it is done without intention.  Food is brought back up the esophagus and into the mouth via a subconscious trigger. The person suffering from rumination disorder does not experience nausea or really any discomfort in the process of regurgitation. The Mayo Clinic reports that:


“The precise cause of rumination syndrome is unknown, but it’s clear that rumination is a subconscious behavior, not a conscious decision. Rumination syndrome is frequently confused with bulimia nervosa, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and gastroparesis. Some people have rumination syndrome and constipation caused by a rectal evacuation disorder.The condition has long been known to occur in infants and people with developmental disabilities, which may be related to an unvoiced desire to reject food. But it can also occur in other children, adolescents and adults”


Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder – Unlike anorexia nervosa, avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder is not characterized by an anxiety around weight gain. This eating disorder, rather, is often the result of a person’s anxiety around the consequences of eating food such as possibly choking, the possibility that the food may be poisoned, or the outside chance of some kind of allergic reaction. The person may also avoid food due to an aversion to any number or combination of particular colors, textures, smells or tastes.


Signs & Symptoms of Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Extreme emaciation
  • Organ Failure
  • Highly restricted diet
  • Brittle nails and hair
  • Anemia
  • Dry or yellowing skin
  • Osteoporosis
  • Infertility
  • Abnormal menstrual periods
  • Malnutrition
  • Irregular body temperature
  • Exhaustion
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation


Treating Dual Diagnosis in Florida

The difficult aspect of treating a dual diagnosis is that many people don’t realize that you have to treat both the eating disorder, in this case, and the substance use disorder at the same time, one with the other. A person struggling to recover from both disorders will find that treating just one of them in an effort to simplify recovery, will only lead to an ebb and flow of one disorder and the other. They will find that they never truly reach remission with any disorder when treated separately. The two disorders will feed off of one another, intensifying each other. If not treated, the two disorders will build up one another until the symptoms are increasingly life threatening. This is especially true in the case of eating disorders which are highly fatal. Not treating the eating disorder, substance abuse dual diagnosis is a kind of proverbial walking the line between life and death.

The way in which society has created this stigma that comes along with both the mental health disorder of eating disorders and an addiction to drugs or alcohol makes it difficult for someone afflicted with this kind of dual diagnosis to be honest about their struggles, ask for help, and seek treatment. They may have a sense of hopelessness and worry that their eating disorder would be untreatable at a drug detox center. Maybe their immense shame and self hatred has made them feel like they don’t deserve recovery. South Florida’s FHE Health is staffed with some of the most qualified licensed medical staff and experienced therapists who can work with the person struggling with drug and alcohol abuse as well as an eating disorder to meet their substance abuse recovery and mental health rehab needs. They will create a personalized plan of treatment for recovery that addresses the patient’s unique needs for recovery.

Call FHE today to learn more.


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