Eating Disorders: The Elephant is Still in the Room

Eating Disorders: The Elephant is Still in the Room

Maeve Millen: While it is troubling that unhealthy eating patterns are so common at Taft, what is almost as troubling is the fact that they are so seldom talked about despite their prevalence. We rejoice at the fact that we have not had a drug and alcohol violation thus far in the year, but how many manifestations of eating disorders have occurred thus far? I would assert that almost any Taft student would agree that eating disorders, or just unhealthy eating habits in general, are much more common than drug and alcohol violations, or unhealthy sexual activity. Yet, like other mental illnesses that Sumi discussed, no one talks about it. By my count, there’s been one speaker who has even addressed the topic in my four years at Taft – Marya Hornbacher – even though I’ve seen disturbing eating behavior firsthand almost every day for those four years.

Elizabeth Henebry: I believe that this “sweeping under the rug” of eating disorders in particular is primarily accelerated by friends and faculty members close to those affected by eating disorders, simply because they do not know what to do or do not recognize the specific behaviors. This is not to place blame, but rather an attempt to begin to acknowledge how and why eating disorders are so prevalent at Taft. Perhaps the root of this lies in the abstract nature of an eating disorder. Sometimes they are glaringly evident, yet more often than not they are easy to ignore or disguise. There is a concrete element to a drug or alcohol violation – a faculty member can easily identify and confront a student when there has been an obvious wrongdoing on the student’s part. It is not nearly as easy to intervene on a student’s eating habits – how much one eats, when they eat, what they eat. Furthermore, there are ways in which students can easily dodge questions and make the inquiring friend or faculty member feel as if they have crossed a boundary – “My meds affect my appetite,” “I’m ordering later,” or “I ate during H-block.” There is no .08 BAC to prove a problem, and talking about the way one’s body looks or has changed is a touchy subject, for girls and faculty especially. While this is not to say that an eating disorder and a drug or alcohol violation are analogous – one is a violation of a major school rule while the other is huge health concern – they are both issues that plague teenagers in particular. But what can we do to address, let alone eliminate, the presence of eating disorders at Taft when there are so many factors and obscurities that make the subject so delicate and hard to reach?

Maeve: There is no quick or easy solution; no matter what there have to be difficult conversations, as well as a feeling of responsibility among the students. We have a responsibility to our friends and peers to make Taft a healthy environment for everyone to live in. I’m certainly not advising anyone to accost their friends who they believe are not being healthy. Primarily, our focus should first be to not make the problem worse. We need to stop holding up the “insane” amount of food we’ve eaten today (while still looking fabulous) as a prize that everyone needs to hear about, we need to stop making conspicuous pacts with our friends to “stop eating sugar” and “eat only vegetables”, and we need to think about what we’re saying about food and who’s hearing it. For a freshman girl to hear a senior girl in the hallway talking about how bad she feels for ordering two nights last week is not conducive to making Taft the environment that we want to live in. Rather than saying, “That looks so good but I’ve already had so much today,” we need to learn to think about the implications, and keep it to ourselves.

Elizabeth: We would like to reiterate the fact that in no way are we attempting to place blame or point fingers. This is by no means a simple topic, and it is one that is often overlooked simply because of its abstrusity. It is extremely difficult to distinguish what constitutes as an eating disorder when our community, both at Taft and in our nation as a whole, has such a strong emphasis on a “healthy” lifestyle – so strong, in fact, that overly healthy eating has transformed in a type of eating disorder itself called orthorexia. Juice fasts, all fruit diets, or excessive exercising are seen as the norm, and while for certain men or women these may indeed be beneficial, they should not be nearly as obsessed over as they are for high-school students. Pick up any women’s magazine and there will almost certainly be a headline proclaiming, “Get Skinny Fast: How to Lose 25 Pounds in Just Two Weeks!” – the likes of which only encourage teenagers at an insecure stage of their lives. An eating disorder is not simply someone not eating; there is Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, binge eating, Pica, and Rumination, to name a few. They can be a trigger or a result of depression or anxiety or familial situations, but regardless of the origin the main point is that an eating disorder is not solely a much-too-skinny fifteen-year old girl eating nothing but rice at each meal – it can manifest itself in anyone, girls or boys, young or old, under or overweight. Thus, before we collapse at our lunch table, outwardly scolding ourselves on the “literally ten cookies we had at lunch” (most likely a gross exaggeration), let us consider who is listening, who is looking up to us, or who is comparing themselves to each of us. And before we point fingers or make excuses for others, let us be knowledgeable on the many variations of eating disorders and how or why they are so widespread. We have had no drug or alcohol violations thus far, seniors will begin to receive college acceptances within the next few weeks, and we are all working hard to gather around our “table” of a community and both discuss and listen to what is important to each of us. In gatherings like these, it is pertinent that we not forget to address and work towards eliminating even the abstract evils that affect a large portion of us daily – eating disorders.