Go to m.barnard.edu for the Mobile Barnard web app or download it from the App Store or Google Play.

Protect Yourself From Developing an Eating Disorder

The best ways to protect yourself from developing an eating disorder include apprising yourself of the realities and risks of eating disorder symptoms, nourishing an identity separate from appearance, and cultivating appreciation for the range of women’s bodies.

Realities and Risks of Eating Disorder Symptoms

For most people, restricting food intake leads to bingeing. In fact, the single best way to avoid bingeing is to eat regularly. When starved, the body shifts into emergency preservation mode: The body processes calories more slowly than usual, which is why many people who diet hit a plateau, and why people who break their restriction often gain weight very quickly, oftentimes more weight than they lost. In addition to slowed metabolism, chronic restriction is associated with impaired concentration, depression, anxiety, and irritability, strange eating habits, preoccupation with food, decreased heart rate, and potentially fatal heart

Laxatives and diuretics do not promote weight loss. They merely deplete the body of water and nutrients; they do not prevent the body from absorbing calories or fat. When the body is dehydrated, it compensates by holding onto water; therefore, ironically, laxative and diuretics often lead to bloating. People also commonly mistake cues of dehydration as cues for hunger, which can lead to unnecessary eating.  Severe dehydration compromises kidney, brain, and heart

Vomiting is ineffective and dangerous as a weight-loss method. People can only throw up between 40% and 60% of what they ate. Many people feel depleted after vomiting and therefore feel the need to eat more. Vomiting dehydrates the body and disrupts electrolyte balances; the latter can lead to heart or kidney failure, which can lead to death. Less grave consequences of electrolyte imbalance include weakness, cognitive impairment, and emotional  

Over-exercising is not an effective weight-management strategy. For optimal performance, the body requires a balance of exercise and rest. Only during rest does muscle repair occur. Over-exercising can also lead to slowed metabolism; that is, if the body is exerting more calories that it is being given, it will slow down the processing of calories to maintain energy.

Findings on Body Satisfaction

Feminist convictions about appearance are correlated with body satisfaction: The less a woman links her worth to her appearance, the more likely she is to be satisfied with her body. In contrast, women who strongly identify with the feminine beauty exemplar and who use their bodies to get attention are likely to have low body satisfaction.

Emotional expressiveness is correlated with body satisfaction: It has been shown that people with eating disorders have an interpersonal style marked by suppressing anger and placing others’ needs over their own. In contrast, the more adept a woman is at expressing her emotions, the less likely she is to be dissatisfied with her body.

What You Can Do

  • Eat three meals (consisting of a protein, a carbohydrate, and a fat), plus two snacks (such as a yogurt, trail mix, or a nutrition bar) everyday. It is important to note that exercise increases nutritional needs.
  • Practice articulating your anger and asserting your needs in constructive ways.
  • Think about what you value in life, thinness aside.
  • Remind yourself how the corollaries of eating disorder symptoms undermine performance, both athletic and academic, and health.
  • Be careful to not reinforce the importance of thinness with your friends, for your sake and for theirs. People with eating disorders frequently cite encouragement from a friend to lose weight as a salient trigger to their disordered eating. Moreover, friendships that do not place importance on thinness can serve as buffers against cultural pressure to be thin.

Final Words

These are some powerful stances and strides you can take to protect yourself and others from developing eating disorders; nevertheless, eating disorder pathology can be stubborn, and the outcome of not only cultural forces and biases, but also internal turmoil, trauma, and genetic susceptibility. Be empathic toward peers who are struggling with eating disorders, and seek out treatment for yourself, if needed.