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Student to student

Kendall Fischer

The combination of two Halloween traditions. Skittles and chocolate eyeballs with skimpy belly dancer or Chippendale costumes cause many of us to be more conscious of our bodies. But surprisingly, body image or eating disorders often have little to do with physical appearance, according to case social worker Janna Dean, who spoke at a Rotary Youth Leadership conference at Sundance last Friday. Eating disorders are actually not about food so much as insecurities, Dean says. Many people become bulimic or anorexic in order to feel more in control of their lives or as "an emotional-coping mechanism."For example, wanting her emotionally abusive father to love her, and her peers to accept her, Becky Mann began to lose weight by running excessively and harshly restricting her caloric intake. "I’d step on the scale, and it would tell me what I was worth that day," says Mann, now in her mid-20s, as she chokes back tears. After pounds of success, Mann was finally at a healthy weight, but it just didn’t seem good enough to her. Her eating disorder became her "best friend" and she kept up her self-destructive actions and began to withdraw from everything else. Mann became critically physically unhealthy, skeletal and yellowish in appearance. The teenage girl was experiencing chest pains and losing consciousness from lack of nutrition. It was at this point that a seriously concerned friend forced Mann to get medical attention. Though she was nursed back to a healthy weight, the problem was not fixed. As Dean says, eating disorders are addictions which take time to overcome. Indeed, it took a long time for Mann to get in touch with her emotions, to find her true self-worth and to feel that her appearance was satisfactory. Currently a registered nurse and a recovered anorexic and exercise-bulimic, Mann still struggles with her body image every once in a while. Mann now works at the Center for Change, a specialty psychiatric clinic at Timpanogas Hospital, aiding the recovery of other persons with eating disorders. Such illnesses affect as many as one in seven youths and as many as 22 percent of those affected die as a result of starvation, heart attack, or other health complication of their disorder.

The problem is real and it is serious. We can all help by being educated about eating disorders. It is also helpful to refrain from commenting on others’ bodies in a negative or positive way since people with tendencies toward eating disorders may interpret any such comment as meaning "Keep up the destructive behavior!" This does not mean that it is harmful to compliment anyone, but it is better to draw attention to people’s other positive features such as personality, since really, that matters a billion times more anyway. Dean made the most suitable summation, "Being happy with who you are makes you beautiful."


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