Daily Egyptian

Eating disorders — possible causes, warning signs and treatment options at SIU

Nurcan Gumus, then a graduate student in linguistics from Turkey, places a lemon next to lentil balls on the plate of an attendee Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, at the International Food Fair at the Student Center. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

Nurcan Gumus, then a graduate student in linguistics from Turkey, places a lemon next to lentil balls on the plate of an attendee Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, at the International Food Fair at the Student Center. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

By Marnie Leonard

Someone sitting next to you in the hallway, at work or in class could have an eating disorder and you would never be able to tell. That’s what Lori Trentacosti, a nutritionist at Student Health Services, tries to emphasize in her work.

“Nobody asks for it and anybody can have it,” Trentacosti said. “It’s important to get help because of the fact that it could be fatal.”

Research is still being done on what causes people to develop these disorders. In 2015, $31 million of federal grants funded research for bulimia, anorexia and other uncategorized disorders, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


At SIU’s Student Health Services, treatment is built on a bio-psychosocial model that focuses on genetic predisposition and social factors, said Abigail Bilderback, a counselor who helps students with eating disorders.

Bilderback could not provide statistics for patients offered treatment though campus services, but said the number of students who seek treatment for eating disorders reflects national trends.

Reports from the National Institute of Mental Health, which was last updated in February, indicate that 2.8 percent of adults in the U.S. experience lifetime binge eating disorder, while less than 1 percent experience anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These are typically onset from the ages of 18 and 29.

Common causes could be previous trauma or the stress of college, Trentacosti said. She added a fixation on healthy eating can even become restrictive to the point where people avoid other foods altogether.

“It becomes an obsession,” Trentacosti said.

She also listed body dissatisfaction promoted by social media as a possible spark.

Jaime Clark, director of SIU’s counseling center, agreed.

Clark said in the U. S., cultural influence is significant, and prevalence of eating disorders nationwide could be attributed to the cultural pressure for women to meet beauty ideals.

“Now there are all these apps and things that you can use to make your pictures look perfect, which can be unrealistic and cause image problems,” Clark said.

Though women are more frequently treated for eating disorders than men, Trentacosti said these afflict people across all age groups, genders, ethnicities and nationalities.

Spending a significant amount of time thinking about food, losing weight or feeling guilty about eating are potential signs of eating disorders, Trentacosti said.

Other implications of an eating disorder include using purging methods to negate calories eaten. These can take the form of vomiting, using laxatives or even excessively exercising.

Trentacosti also rejects the association of the word “diet” with weight loss.

“Food is just fuel,” Trentacosti said. “It’s not a fixer of relationships or emotions.”

But, Trentacosti said, the sooner someone seeks help, the better. When someone comes in to be treated, the health center uses a team approach that aims to make changes the person feels comfortable with.

“It is a slow process, and it’s different for everybody,” Trentacosti said.

A patient has the option to see a physician, nutritionist or counselor first, and from there, the different departments work together on the road to recovery.

If someone feels he or she may have disordered eating habits, Trentacosti recommends the person come to the health center to seek treatment, or visit the National Eating Disorders Association website for resources or a confidential online eating disorder screening.

“The most important thing is to get help, period,” Trentacosti said.

Staff writer Marnie Leonard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

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