David O’Brien, Editor-in-Chief
We, The La Salle Collegian, had the privilege to interview Dr. Samantha DeCaro, the director of clinical outreach and education for The Renfrew Center, the largest network of eating disorder treatment facilities in the U.S. DeCaro provided information surrounding eating disorders, what causes them, what promotes them and how to combat them.
While thought surrounding eating disorders only generally focuses on traditionally discussed such as: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, it is important to keep in mind that there are others that are not traditionally diagnosed. Psychiatrists and leading scientists are beginning to view eating disorders less as a specific condition but rather conditions functioning along a spectrum. As new patterns of behaviors emerge, leading psychologists are attempting to help people who engage in disordered behavior before it escalates to the point of traditionally diagnosed eating disorders. Examples of other disorders on the spectrum that are not traditionally discussed are: orthorexia, a disorder characterized by sacrificing daily calories and engaging in unhealthy behavior for the sake of “clean eating,” and drunkorexia, a disorder characterized by exhibiting behaviors that mirror those of traditional eating disorders under the influence of alcohol.
While there are no direct causes that lead to developing eating disorders, there are various issues that may indirectly lead to them, these include: diet culture, financial troubles, toxic environments, genetics, anxiety, depression, impulsive behavior, and PTSD. In addition to these, research suggests that exposure to social media is directly correlated to the development of eating disorders. In our interview DeCaro discussed that, “Research studies show that there are links between social media use and: body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, negative mood, poor sleep quality, disordered eating, eating concerns, low self esteem, and anxiety & depression.” In addition to this, new research studies show a connection to higher rates of body dissatisfaction with individuals who view body positive and “fitspo” accounts. DeCaro made a point to say people are better off simply avoiding accounts that discuss different types of diet culture for the sake of their mental health.
In addition to these issues being common on a college campus, the transition from adolescence to adulthood is the time period where most eating disorders emerge. For incoming students, the radical change in environment can exacerbate these issues leading to disordered eating or directly cause eating disorders. College diet culture also serves as a breeding ground for anxiety surrounding eating habits. As students enter college, student organizations ranging from campus athletics to Greek Life enforce diet culture. Incoming freshmen are also forced to grapple with eating habits as concepts like “the Freshman 15” make their way into general conversation.
DeCaro said that the best method for combating eating disorders is to establish a support system that can help guide students through their issues. Eating disorders thrive in isolation and through a support system people struggling are significantly more likely to improve and/or overcome them. Students struggling with these issues and who feel uncomfortable reaching out to people in their general surroundings should contact the La Salle Student Wellness Center and discuss their struggles with a mental health professional.
In addition to this article, Dr. DeCaro and the Renfrew Center has provided resources for those who may need help combating eating disorders or those interested in learning more about the topic.