Eating Disorder Stories
Students suffer from eating disorders
By Tracy L. Fercho
Diamondback staff writer
University of Maryland
For nearly 10 years, Jason Burroughs, a senior neurobiology and physiology major, has been fighting for his life. Burroughs has fought to control his weight since middle school, along with an estimated eight million American men and women who suffer from eating disorders. Burroughs has always been active. He was involved in gymnastics in elementary school, which contributed to his "skin and bones" appearance. Around the time Burroughs entered fifth grade, he started to become less active and slowly began to gain weight. In junior high school his classmates made fun of him and called him "chubby." He went home for comfort only to face more abuse. His father constantly made fun of his weight and ridiculed him for eating so much. Burroughs's mother was always supportive of him but she had her own problems. Her husband was emotionally abusive, causing her to develop a weight problem of her own. Burroughs had nowhere to turn. He could not find refuge at school and there was no solace waiting for him at home, so Burroughs turned to food for comfort. Whenever he was stressed out or felt bad about himself, he ate.
In high school, Burroughs tried sticking his finger down his throat after eating so he could lose weight and fit in with the popular kids who made him the butt of their jokes. This behavior of binge eating and purging, known as bulimia, did not last long because Burroughs could not tolerate the gagging sensation he put himself through every time he thought he ate too much. But Burroughs still wanted to look like everyone else, so he stopped eating. "I didn't think I was good enough to eat," Burroughs said. Burroughs focused on his schoolwork and would only eat one meal a day. Sometimes he did not eat at all. During his senior year, Burroughs lost 30 pounds in a period of about six months. He was only satisfied with himself when his bones showed through his skin. He was encouraged to continue starving when his friends said he looked anorexic. "It actually made me happy that I looked sickly to some people," Burroughs said. "I was happy that people weren't calling me chubby."
His freshman year on campus, Burroughs became so stressed because of family problems, losing his best friend to cancer and adjusting to college, that he made himself too sick to eat. He continued eating only one small meal a day. During the worst part of his eating disorder, Burroughs would go three days without eating anything at all. "It was really hard for me because, although I liked the fact that I was losing weight, I hated who I was," Burroughs said. "I couldn't continue to live that way ... it hurt too much inside." Burroughs tried eating better, but he always felt like he was not thin enough, so he turned to physical exercise. He did at least 300 crunches and 120 pushups every day. He would do aerobics in his dorm room until he was too tired to move. Burroughs was eating more, but he was exercising away more energy than his caloric intake allowed. "Everything I did I would do in excess," Burroughs said. With the support of his mother and those around him, Burroughs slowly started to realize that, in order to be truly happy, he had to take care of himself. He started eating better and exercising less. Although he still has trouble forcing himself to eat properly, he says he has reached the point in his life where he is happy with himself and depends on his self esteem and attitude to attract others.
Pat Preston, a social worker at the University Health Center, said freshmen, seniors and athletes have the greatest risk of all college students of developing an eating disorder. Freshmen develop eating disorders because of stress from adjusting to college, while seniors use eating disorders as a means of dealing with graduation anxiety, Preston said. In both instances, she said, the eating disorders give their victims a feeling of control at a time when their lives seem out of control. Athletes are at an even greater risk because they use their bodies so intensely, Preston said. They want to enhance their performance, but even though losing weight might initially help them achieve their goals, it will prove detrimental in the long run, Preston said. The Health Center provides personal counseling and group therapy to students suffering from eating disorders. It also plans outreach and prevention programs to teach students about the dangers of eating disorders before they fall victim to them. "We have treated a lot of people over the years," Preston said. The Health Center has organized 48 presentations on eating disorders during this school year, which includes working with Greek Life and the athletic department. The Health Center also provides summer training sessions for resident life office employees on eating disorder awareness.
The three main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Symptoms of anorexia can include an emaciated appearance, intense fear of being fat even though a person might be very thin, dry skin from dehydration, always feeling cold and tired and excessively exercising, even at odd hours. Bulimia is characterized by eating a lot of food in a short period of time, then purging by inducing vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics. Tooth discoloration and decay, swollen cheeks, scarred knuckles and irregular menstrual periods are also common symptoms. The most common victims of eating disorders are white middle to upper-class females, ranging in age from 15 to 30, although males make up about five to 10 percent of all eating disorders cases, Annapolis Clinical Psychologist Marianne Brandon said in an interview with The Annapolis Capitol. "It's important for all of us to be happy with who we are," Burroughs said. "Happiness does not come in a perfect little package."
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