By Vivian Blevins
After class yesterday at the college where I teach, two of my students stayed, and our conversation turned to the challenges they and other college students face in a society where many have a misperception about the lives of college students, a false view that media reinforces by choosing to portray them as carefree party animals.
This semester I required my students to write an editorial/an opinion piece designed to educate/convince a specific audience about a challenge we face as a society. The body of their work provides insights into the complexities/challenges of the lives of our youth.
I am sharing with you an editorial written by Shelby Boss, 17, a senior at Sidney High School where she participates in theatre and the marching band. She is also a College Credit Plus student at Edison State and has been admitted as a psychology major to the Honors Program at Bowling Green State University for fall semester 2023.
Boss says, “I’ve struggled with an eating disorder and work to educate others about them.”
Dying to be Thin
In my experience the development of any eating disorder is a gradual process. There are no defined triggers for eating disorders, but common causes are stress, lack of control, and societal pressure.
My experience with anorexia nervosa began when I was 9 years old. I was a fourth grader, a swimmer at the local YMCA, and a near straight A student, but I still felt inadequate. This feeling of being less than ran so deep within me that I began to believe that I didn’t deserve to eat.
I didn’t become anorexic on purpose; in fact, I didn’t know that eating disorders were a thing. I slowly stopped eating as much as I used to as my feelings of unworthiness stole my appetite every time I sat down for a meal.
Slowly, I began to waste away. My stomach didn’t become flatter, but my arms and legs slowly became more and more slender. Clothes that used to fit me perfectly slowly began to hang off me, no matter how hard I tried to get them to fit.
As my mother recalls, my swimsuit used to hang off of me at swim practice. However, when I try to look back on that time, all I can recall is feeling like I would never be skinny enough.
For me, the hardest part of being anorexic was the overwhelming exhaustion and hunger that seemed to follow me wherever I went. They consumed my every waking thought and weighed me down like a boulder.
My story is just one of many from teenage and adolescent girls who fall victim to the societal pressure to be skinny. Research takes my experience a step further.
The eating disorder anorexia nervosa is a disorder in which persons restrict their caloric intake and develop a deep fear of gaining weight. With the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, anorexia is a deadly disorder.
According to the American Society for Nutrition, eating disorders as a whole, have become more common since the early 2000’s. The prevalence of eating disorders increased from 3.5% to 7.8% in 2018, and it continued to rise during the pandemic.
For adolescents, any eating disorder can greatly impact their growth and development. Anorexia nervosa, in particular, stunts growth. Without proper nutrition and energy, the body struggles to hit essential developmental milestones.
Since the brain consumes a fifth of daily calories, it suffers the most from a lack of energy. As a result, almost every bodily function is disrupted. Hormones are thrown out of balance, digestion and metabolism are slowed, and sleep patterns are disrupted. More specifically, being deficient in calcium can damage bone growth. Without enough calcium, bones don’t grow to be as dense as they should be, which can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis.
According to the National Library of Medicine, only about 47% of people who develop anorexia fully recover. In addition, 33% will make improvements, 20% will remain chronically ill with it, and it claims roughly 10,200 lives each year according to The American Society for Nutrition. Sufferers who are ages 15-24 in particular have a 10 times higher mortality rate than older persons.
Although eating disorders are on the rise in America, there is hope to reverse the trend. Promoting awareness of the signs and symptoms of eating disorders can help to save lives and prevent the development of eating disorders. Increasing body positivity and body acceptance for young girls can also go a long way to fight eating disorders. In the end it is up to parents and teachers to teach young girls and young boys about healthy habits and realistic body image to raise their self-esteem and set them up for a healthy lifestyle.