The Michigan Daily - Friday, November 20, 1992- Page5
by Daily Staff Reporters Erin Einborn and Karen Sabgir
Diet as a
by Karen Talaski
Daily Gender Issues Reporter
It's an attempt to deal with stress.
It's a method to re-establish control
It's a way topunishyourself
It's an outlet for pain.
Dieting. Self-starvation. Obsession.
"I'd like to lose eight pounds. I've become ob-
sessed with it. I just want look better." - First-year
engineering student. Female.
"I've been on diets since I was 12-years-old. Now
I'd like to lose 20 pounds." - LSA junior. Female.
"Fivemore pounds ... I've already lost ten. I went
abroad for a year and gained 15 pounds." -1992 U-
The American Psychiatric Association (APA)
estimates only 1 to 3 percent of American women
have severe eating disorders - Anorexia Nervosa
and Bulimia Nervosa - said Adam Drewnowski,
director of the Human Nutrition program in the
School of Public Health.
Butpoor body-image and low self-esteem drive a
much larger percent of the population to diet to an
unhealthy degree and develop obsessions with food,
The APA defines Anorexia Nervosa as chronic
self-starvation with a strong desire for thinness and
Bulimia Nervosa as chronic eating and purging by
vomiting or by the use of laxatives.
Drewnowski called the APA's definition "strin-
gent," adding that a large part of the 97 percent of
women who do not fit into this category also have
body image problems and diet to excess.
"Between l0and20percentofcollege-age women
engage in bulimic behavior," he said, based on
studies he has conduct through surveys from incom-
ing first-year student to the U-M since 1984. "They
are dieters at risk. They do deserve attention and
should be targets for attention."
These women have "disordered eating."
"I'm always on a diet but never do anything
drastic about it. I just try to watch what I eat.
But if I do eat a lot, Ifeel really guilty about it.
Once I did a whole exercise and diet thing and
lost 10 pounds.
It's frustrating to me when people who I
consider to be thin say they want to lose weight.
I haven'tfelt pressure from anyone to lose
weight, but after I broke up with my boyfriend
last summer, I decided to do it to spite him."
-Lisa, Engineering sophomore
"Anna," a Residential College sophomore, ad-
mits her eating habits are unhealthy, but does not
consider herself bulimic.
"Food for me is like the greatest pleasure," she
said. "When I'm eating lunch and I'm really enjoy-
ing the food, I often thirk about what I can eat for
She said she often eats to excess and then feels
"When I eat too much I just feel so gross and
horribly full - more than anything, I want it out of
my body," she said.
Anna said she has forced herself to vomit on
about five occasions and often fasts or tries low-
calorie diets to lose weight quickly.
She said she always re-gains the weight within a
Most women who diet re-gain the weight, said
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I started to diet when I was in the sixth
grade. There were stressful problems at home,
and at school. One girl called me a fat pig.
They say you diet to have control over your
life. If something goes wrong, I think I'm fat
I've been dieting since then.
The last time I weighed myself I weighed 78
pounds. I always wanted to see how thin I
would be if I were in the sixties, but seventy
would be okay. The doctors want me to weigh
between 85 and 90 but think 80 is okay.
When I was at (boarding school) I didn't
have good eating habits. I would diet one day
and be hungry the next. But I get irrational
when I'm hungry. I was just getting over-
whelmed by everything. I ate all my meals in
my room because I wouldn't eat in front of
people. It showed a weakness to be eating at
One night I ordered a pizza. A small pizza. I
probably ate more than half. I wanted to throw
it up. I was frustrated and angry. I wanted to
cut off my stomach. Instead, I cut my wrist.
I didn't want to die, I just wanted to feel a
different kind of pain.
- Laurie, LSA first-year student
Excessive dieting and low body image are noth-
ing new to American women said Social Work
Specialist Ken Castagna, associate director of the
Eating Disorder program at the U-M Hospitals.
Since the 16th century, when the first cases of
Anorexia were recorded, women have turned to
new, more extreme dieting methods such as fasting,
induced-vomiting, diet pills, laxatives and liquid
Bulimia Nervosa was identified in the 1970s.
"The womens' movement opened up a lot of
options for women," Banker said.'
"College-age women especially feel they have to
go for it all and do everything really well ... They
feel they have to have a great career, the perfect
relationship, be great mothers and look beautiful.
It's a great burden."
She added that many women turn to food to
numb constant societal pressure and punish them-
selves by dieting when they fail to live up to their,
own excessive expectations.
"(Dieting) is to say that you're above eating, you
have control and you can self-inflict pain," Boyd
"Laurie" an LSA first-year student, who weighs
78 lbs., said she turns to dieting when academic and
social pressures become too much for her to handle.
"They say you diet to have control over your life.
If something goes wrong, I think I'm fat," Laurie
said, adding that her ideal weight would be in the
60s. Her doctors recommend that she weigh be-
tween 85 and 90 lbs.
"I diet when I'm upset about something else
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"I went on my first diet when I was in the
seventh grade. It was just the way things are in
the seventh and eighth grade. The confidence is
"In high school I was more involved with
sports, but once I came to college, weight really
became a big issue.
"It's definitely a big issue in my sorority
house. There are some people that have
disorders. There's sort of a subliminal pressure
concerning people showing too much obses-
siveness. It can probably become more of an.
issue this way.
"There's also a real awareness of the
problem. We knew there were some people who
might have problems. Living in a sorority,
people notice what other people eat. It's part of
society. Women want to be thin."
-Jennifer, LSA sophomore
Stress often leads to disordered eating,
College-age women - facing added academic
pressures and the anxieties associated with leaving
the securities of home - are likely to develop
unhealthy eating habits, he said.
Studies show that while men are forced to deal
with these pressures as well, they generally handle
the stresses differently because they do not place as
high a value on body shape.
Data from Drewnowski's surveys indicate that
college-age women are far more likely than men to
worry about gaining weight.
While the statistics show that 19 percentof women
are "always terrified of gaining weight," only 1
percent of men surveyed said they have this fear.
Conversely, 60 percent of men said they are
"never terrified of gaining weight," while 11 percent
of women said they feel the same way.
"The reason we're concerned abut our image is
the way themediaportrays women," Business School
junior Aileen Supeha said.
She added that women are expected to have "big
breasts, a nice butt and long legs - but that's not
"In this society, our images of beautiful women
are very thin women," Boyd said.
Laurie said pictures in magazines often affect the
way she feels about herself.
"I look at the women models and see if they have
a stomach," she said. "I try to see how I compare to
While many women are able to regain control
over their weight, they confess that coping with
disordered eating is a lifetime battle.
"I can see myself if I were ever under a super
stressful situation, falling back to it. I looked so great,
but I know it was a bad lifestyle," Davidson said.
"I basically wentback toregulareating habits, but
once you have it - you always have it."
"Seven pounds. I've gained about seven pounds
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Women who have been sexually
assaulted will often react to their
abuse by trying to regain control of
their bodies - often, developing
eating disorders, say eating disorder
"It's a common scenario," said
Judith Banker , director of the Ann
Arbor Center for Eating Disorders.
"A woman comes in with an eating
disorder for treatment. As her eating
disorder symptoms abate, memories
of her sexual abuse or assault come
"Women who have been as-
saulted or abused will notoriously
develop problems with food and/or
their body image," she said.
Psychologist Sheri Szuch at the
Institute for Psychology and
Medicine said 40 to 80 percent of
women who have eating disorders
have some form of sexual abuse in
"Women who struggle with
weight problems usually have trou-
ble with intimacy. Their focus turns
to food," she said.
Banker said survivors develop
eating disorders as a way to recreate
their abuse. "With bulimia, women
can put the food in and then get rid
of it. With anorexia nervosa, they are
keeping it out because they think it
is bad," she said.
Survivors who are bulimic often
purge symbolically, Banker said. "I
have had women talk about throwing
up as a way to cleanse their systems
of the abuser, especially if they have
been forced to participate in oral
sex," she said.
"In cases of anorexia nervosa,
women try to desexualize their bod-
ies by not eating. It is a way to make
your body less attractive to the op-
posite sex," Banker said.
Eating disorders become defense
mechanisms for survivors, Banker
said. "It is a normal way to deal with
the trauma. Survivors can numb
themselves out through their
by Will McCahil l
Daily Staff Reporter
Male U-M students said they do
not expect their female counterparts
to look like models from the Sports
Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. They do
not expect them to carry 100 pounds
on 5-foot-7 frames. So they can't
understand why women on campus
care so much aboutcalories, fat grams
and body image.
saidhe thinks itis unrealistic formost
women to try to conform to images
presented in publications and adver-
Priest added that he thinks society
puts much less pressure on men to
conform than on women.
He said he thinks some women
diet because they believe men judge
them on their physical characteris
tics. This, he said, "is just lame." f
However, engineering first-year
commented, "Ipersonally preferrolls
and rolls of fat."
This sarcasm maybeused to mask
the fact that men do expect women to
look like the models in their favorite
LSA first-year student David
Flaten said, "Women should not look'
like the German shot put team."
Hingorany said that women also
feel pressured by other women who
flaunt their bodies.
Priest added, "There's so much
more pressure (for women, and they)'
give in to that."
An informal survey of men about
attitudes toward their own physical
appearance elicited a spectrum of
"It's not necessarily good for ev-
eryone to try to look like that," Priest
added. "I will look the way I want to
Flaten added that women react to
societal pressures differently in the
United States than in his home coun-