Trigger warning: eating disorders
Overweight. Too skinny. Flat-chested. Too curvy. As women, we exist in a world that is constantly telling us how our bodies should look, what we should eat, how much we should exercise, etc. It is not uncommon for these unrealistic standards to affect our own self-image. Often times, this can lead to concerning behaviors when it comes to eating and weight loss. One period of life where disordered eating typically runs rampant and unchecked is in the world of college. In this world, there are no parents, lots of social activities, and very few rules.
What are eating disorders?
There is no simple way to define an eating disorder. They can come in a variety of packages and can affect individuals of all genders and body types. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) currently recognizes six types of eating disorders. These include the following:
Rumination Disorder (RD)
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Anorexia Nervosa (AN)
Bulimia Nervosa (BN)
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
The DSM-5 also recognizes “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)” and “Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED)” as more vague diagnoses.
Essentially, eating disorders are mental health issues that prevent individuals from developing normal eating or exercise habits. A great deal of the reason as to why eating disorders are so prevalent in modern-day society is because of the bodily expectations that society places on women. Across college campuses, anorexia and bulimia often run rampant, with very little help offered to those suffering from it.
Anorexia and bulimia:
Specifically, anorexia nervosa is a disorder in which an individual will not consume an adequate amount of calories throughout the day. This lack of caloric intake typically stems from a warped body image and thoughts/feelings of being overweight (regardless of how skinny the individual may become). When it goes unchecked, anorexia can lead to anemia, infertility (loss of menstrual cycle), osteoporosis, and in extreme cases, organ failure and death.
Bulimia, much like anorexia, typically stems from the ideology of being overweight or out of shape. However, bulimia is a disorder that consists of two parts: binging and purging. During a binge, a bulimic individual is overcome with the desire to eat everything available to them. Hunger isn’t satisfied, and these binges can reach up to several thousand calories in a short period of time. Consequently, the individual will begin to feel guilty or disgusted with themself post-binge, which typically results in some sort of purge. Purging can be done through vomiting, over-exercising to “burn off” the binge, taking laxatives, etc. In college, where the social scene is a huge part of everyday life for many, the desire to look good oftentimes leads to paths of disordered eating.
Disordered eating culture in college
Everyone has heard of the freshman 15. For most women, gaining weight when beginning college is not a huge surprise. You’re away from your family for the first time, access to dining halls is a constant, and there is often, of course, the consumption of alcohol. However, when you mix the freshman 15 with the desire to fit in socially amongst new groups of people and then add unrealistic beauty standards, problems often arise. One objective that seems to be growing in popularity amongst college-aged women is the idea of “pulling trig.” Pulling trig is basically code for “throwing up.” Young women typically perform this action prior to going out, heading to the pool, etc. so they can “look skinny.” So, why is this problematic?
First of all, the term “pulling trig” is just a way to normalize disordered eating. Throwing up is a key characteristic of bulimia, and is not something to be taken lightly. It should be acknowledged for what it is, even if “everyone is doing it.” Second of all, forcing yourself to vomit may make you feel skinnier, but it often actually has the reverse effect. When you “pull trig” on a regular basis, your body will begin holding on to and storing fat more regularly. This is because it becomes unsure of when it will have access to adequate nutrients again. Therefore, fat is stored as a sort of “back up supply.”
Additionally, intentionally throwing up can cause extreme health-related consequences. When you throw up often, your body can reach a state of electrolyte imbalance. This can cause symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, fatigue, and even seizures. Finally, forcing yourself to throw up can lead to the absence of a menstrual cycle, which often leads to infertility later on down the road.
End the glamorization! Break the stigma!
The glamorization of “pulling trig” to look good in a crop top is something that needs to be put to rest. What starts out as disordered eating can lead to extreme health problems later on down the road. It is important for us, as women, to begin to acknowledge these issues arising amongst our friends, and to offer support and advice when possible. Many times, women partaking in disordered eating don’t realize they are doing so. Sometimes all it takes is a little acknowledgement and a shoulder to lean on, and positive changes can be made. If we begin tackling the glamorization of being skinny (especially when it’s due to disordered eating), we can begin dismantling the expectations society sets for us.
We need to work together to break the stigmas that exist surrounding weight, diet, and body for women. You only get one shot at living in the body you are in now. Spend more time learning to love it, and less time trying to make parts of it go away. Do not base your own goals and physical expectations on those spoon-fed to you through the media. All that matters is your confidence in yourself, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate that isn’t someone you should be trying to “fit in” with anyways.
If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, please consider reaching out to the following organizations:
- (800)-931-2237 – National Eating Disorders Helpline
- (630)-577-1330 – National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Helpline