College students not immune to eating disorders

Cassandra Adams

Over-excercising and diet restrictions can become an obsession

Josh Pittman, freshman integrated social studies major, had trouble making weight for wrestling in high school and now struggles with the aftermaths of anorexia while in college. Emily Horne | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Josh Pittman, freshman integrated social studies major, realized that to win his high school wrestling matches he had to reach a lower weight class.

To cut weight, Pittman began an obsessive cycle of radical calorie restriction and exercise, and soon the 5-foot-9 Pittman went from a slim 135 pounds to a dangerously low 112 lbs.

“I didn’t think I was that thin. I was anorexic,” Pittman said. “I became obsessed; it was a way of life and the only thing that was important to me.”

Over-exercising and not eating wore Pittman down to a point where he fell asleep in classes, frequently passed out and was agitated all the time.

Josephine Glover, a licensed clinical counselor at Malone University, said once the eating disorder pattern has been established, it becomes an addiction and takes on a life of its own.

“The person begins to have a relationship with the eating disorder instead of real people,” Glover said. “All their time is spent centered around food; it becomes an obsession.”

Glover helps manage the Jubilee Center, a Canton eating disorder support center where the general majority of patients are college-aged.

Some studies have shown that as many as 50 to 60 percent of the college population has an eating disorder. Kent State students don’t seem to be exempt.

Marie LePage, the undergraduate officer coordinator of psychological services in Kent Hall, said an increasing amount of students are going in for treatment.

“College is a time of greater stress, and it can be a way to deal with the stress,” LePage said. “For many young people, it is truly their first time on their own. They are suddenly thrown into this world of greater freedoms, mom and dad aren’t there to overlook their every move.”

Other factors that contribute to eating pathology are genetics, peers, family and the media. LePage said eating disorders are a culture-bound disorder and largely influenced by societal pressure. The West is highest among many cultures cultivating the “thin is in” mindset to the extreme.

Sarah Yonkof, freshman exploratory major, said students are competing to look good.

“I feel like you’re only as good as your size,” Yonkof said. “Guys treat you better if you’re skinnier – the attention is always based on your looks, not how smart or funny you are. No matter what your education, social status or money situation, people judge you on your weight – and I think it’s wrong.”

But women aren’t the only ones feeling the pressure to “measure up.”

“A big misconception is that guys aren’t affected too,” Pittman said. “Guys get self-conscious, just like girls. I remember, starting college, I gained some weight and got real depressed because I hated how I looked and felt.”

While Pittman was able to reduce his disorder after quitting wrestling in high school, he said it still affects his life in college – though not as severely. He said if he’s not careful, he begins a downward spiral of excessive exercise and strict calorie restriction – sans beer and snacks.

Glover and LePage agree recovery is possible with help from the right people. Pittman advises people suffering from the disease to get support.

“All I can say is there is nothing to be ashamed of,” Pittman said. “Everyone has problems, whether they let people know or not. If this is your problem, seek out the help and get it; it’s not worth your life.”

Contact news correspondent Cassandra Adams at [email protected].