Tuesday, February 23, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 99

Local, state government impacted by UH System

Wig-shop suspect is UH dropout

About the Cougar

Eating disorders affect many college students

By Talia Klein
News Reporter

Suzie was driving home from her night classes at college, when she was hit by an oncoming car.

Suzie walked away with four broken ribs, and a dislocated shoulder. The doctors said that she would have had a better chance of not being injured, if she wasn't a recovering anorexic.

Because of her disorder, Suzie's bones were brittle in comparison to other healthy girls her age.

The circumstances of her injuries were not unique. She was like many teenagers and college students with an eating disorder.

"Some studies show that up to 20 percent of college-aged people will have an eating disorder," Sherri Terrel, a psychologist at Counseling and Psychological Testing said.

Eating disorders are not limited exclusively to women; men have the same disorders, but usually do not admit they have a problem.

"It is considered, in the real world, to be a women's issue," Pamella Hoffmeister, chief nurse at the UH Health Center said.

Men are being diagnosed less than women. However, this does not mean that all men are without eating disorders.

Eating disorders are also rampant among teenagers. Julie, who asked that her full name not be used, suffered from anorexia for six years as a teenager.

"At one point, when you decided to begin the recovery process, you want to eat," Julie said. "But your body refuses to."

Julie shared her memories of staying in a local hospital with other anorexic and bulimic teenagers.

"We would sit there to eat, and the nurses would give us a tray of food," she said. "The tray only had a small cup of yogurt, a slice of bread and maybe half a tomato -- an amount of food that would not suffice as a midnight snack."

"But to us it was too much. We would take two bites and that was it. Physically, our bodies could not take anymore. If we tried to eat any more, we would vomit, and not because we wanted to."

The most common eating disorder among men and women is bulimia, Hoffmeister said. It is characterized mostly by bingeing and purging. Bulimic men and women will eat large quantities of food in short periods of time and then use behaviors such as taking laxatives or self-induced vomiting to get the food quickly out of their system.

The Something Fishy Web site on Eating Disorders reports that those with bulimia usually know they have an eating disorder but do little about it, because they choose not to tell anyone about the disorder.

They are fascinated with food and will often buy cookbooks and magazines to read recipes and enjoy dieting issues.

For those with anorexia, the principle trait is the need to maintain strict control over food intake. Some will eat normal meals with only certain periods of restriction. Others may deny hunger, make excuses to avoid eating, hide food they claim to have eaten or use diet pills to control their appetite.

According to research, all eating disorders, including compulsive overeating, come from a psychological source -- often anxiety, stress and unhappiness.

Bulimia is usually identified at the Health Center as a secondary problem, Hoffmeister said. The initial problem is usually depression, anxiety, panic attacks and/or stress.

To help with such disorders, the UH Health Center will offer therapy and one-on-one counseling to all students as part of the National Eating Disorders Week. The center will hold screenings from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the University Center and the UC Satellite.

Screening will be conducted during the week, but it is also done year-round. Most students stop by for testing after the screening day.

"Eating disorders are hidden disorders," Hoffmeister said. "It is rare that someone will stand up and admit having an eating disorder."

Terrel said that people with eating disorders are usually ashamed.

"Your friend might have an eating disorder but will not come out and tell you," she said.

All records and information regarding all cases are confidential. "No one has access to records without written consent," Hoffmeister said. "If it is of a sensitive nature, we will call to verify."

Those who attend the screening day for an eating disorder will be able to meet with a medical doctor. The doctor will perform a physical exam and blood work to determine what, if any, damage has been done.

A psychiatrist may prescribe medicine, but that is not always successful, Hoffmeister said. Students will also meet with a therapist for a one-on-one session each week to work through the disorder.

"There is help available," Terrel said. "If you don't have an eating disorder, chances are you know someone who does. Being aware may lead you to help someone."

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