Eating disorders cross gender, color line

Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are considered eating disorders, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. NEDA estimates that 35 million Americans suffer from some sort of eating disorder.

“An eating disorder is defined as a psychological problem where one has disturbances with food and how they view their body and weight,” said Heather Fisher, coordinator of clinical programs and staff nutritionist at Florida State University’s Thagard Student Health Center.

Fisher said although eating disorders have roots in psychology, studies are being conducted that attempt to link genetics to eating disorders.

Fisher stresses although eating disorders are often associated with white women, the disorder expresses itself across color lines and strikes men as well.

“Eating disorders are not always textbook things,” Fisher said. “They don’t have a particular face.”

Polly Cobb, director of client relations at Canopy Cove, a local eating disorder rehabilitation clinic, attributes several factors to the onslaught of eating disorders.

“The environment, media, marketing, family issues and biological connections all play a role in the occurrences of eating disorders,” Cobb said.

Cobb added that eating disorders have been documented in Hispanic and black women. Cobb said the way a particular culture views body types can determine what type of disorder is prevalent in the community.

“Spanish and African-American women have different views of their bodies,” Cobb said. “They generally don’t find stick figures beautiful. We see more cases of binge eating and bulimia among these women.”

Though eating disorders are primarily documented in women, Cobb said a number of men suffer from them as well. Cobb said anorexia and bulimia are the eating disorders men usually suffer from.

“Of the estimated 24 million Americans who have eating disorders, one million of them are men,” Cobb said. She noted the male estimates could be higher, but men are reluctant to get help. “It’s still a stigma for males to come for treatment.”

Tricia Maynard, a registered nurse at a Miami pediatric hospital, knows all too well the effects of eating disorders. Maynard, 32, who suffered from anorexia and bulimia for more than two years, said depression and a negative body image contributed to her struggle with the disorder.

“My parents divorced, and, instead of me dealing with things and talking about my feelings, I just shoved food down,” Maynard said.

She said her lowest weight was 118 pounds – on a 5-foot-7-inch frame. She credits the support of family and friends for urging her to seek help.

“I went to a treatment center in West Palm Beach and got counseling and saw a psychologist,” Maynard said.

Maynard thinks people don’t take eating disorders seriously. “They think that you can just snap out of it and you can’t,” Maynard said.

She drew parallels between people addicted to drugs and those with eating disorders.

“Drugs are something that you can wean off of,” Maynard said. “But food is something that you need to live.”

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