Author speaks about dangers of eating disorders

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I’m already dead,” said Jessica Weiner, author of the book “A Very Hungry Girl,” in regards to the feeling many people who are suffering from eating disorders experience.

Weiner spoke at CSUN about her new book and her own struggle with eating disorders as a kick-off to Mind, Body and Spirit Week, sponsored by the CSUN Joint Advocates on Disordered Eating.

Weiner said she suffered from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating from ages 11 to 18.

“I never thought I had a problem because I didn’t look sick,” Weiner said. “I didn’t look like anybody on TV who looked anorexic. I was a very normal, average girl, who, on the inside, was dying.”

When she threw up and it didn’t make her feel better, she would feel like she wanted to kill herself, Weiner said.

Her turning point came when she was a freshman in college. She was in the bathroom cubicle of her dorm ready to throw up, when she saw writing on the bathroom door that said “Eating disorders can kill.”

At first, she did not think the message applied to her. When she took a closer look at it, she saw that someone had written, “Screw you, I’m already dead.” More writing below it read, “So am I.”

Weiner noticed there were many people in her dorm, whom she knew, who had to have been the ones writing about their pain and struggle. Weiner knew she wasn’t alone. That was when she began to look for help.

Now, after having traveled around the country for the past 10 years, and talking about her struggle to thousands of people, Weiner decided to write a book. She realized many people in the world were sharing the same experiences as her.

“Black (or) white, male (or) female, rich (or) poor, everybody was impacted by eating disorders and body image,” Weiner said. “I knew I had to tell my story and the stories of the people I’ve been listening to for over a decade.”

Ellen Mayer, director of JADE and a counselor with University Counseling Services, said 28 percent of CSUN students suffer from eating disorders, and 60 percent of people at CSUN know somebody who has an eating disorder. Ten percent of those who had eating disorders were male, she said.

“(We) see it as an issue that affects people on campus (and we also) see this issue as life and death,” Mayer said.

Anorexia involves undereating, and is sometimes coupled with excessive exercising. Bulimia is characterized by the act of binging and purging. Binge eating is the combination of severely restricted eating and overeating.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental health illnesses, and 20 percent of people who struggle with anorexia will die from it, Weiner said.

There are as many as 1,000 deaths a year related to eating disorders, Mayer said. However, the numbers might even be higher because some deaths, such as suicide, are often not researched as to whether they were related to a history of eating disorders.

Eating disorders are too often stereotyped as being about food, fat and weight, Weiner said. She said society should wake up and look at friends and family members who are dying from these illnesses.

“We have to watch the way we talk about our body,” Weiner said. “I think we have to watch how we talk about other people’s (bodies as well). I think our focus on weight is a new form of discrimination, and we have to be conscious of the thoughts we think, the language we speak, and the actions we take.”

Farnaz Shahri, junior psychology major who attended, said the talk was very helpful in illuminating facts about the body.

“I learned a lot about self-image and the way society deals with weight control and eating disorders, and how we think of food as something we can escape to,” Shahri said.

It is important to note that an eating disorder is a legitimate mental health issue, Weiner said.

“People who struggle with eating disorders do not do it because they want to look skinny and pretty,” Weiner said. “That is a myth. (Eating disorders) are about trying to take control in (one’s) life. They are about depression; they are about self-esteem; they are about sexual abuse and molestation; they are about poverty, (and) they are about domestic violence.”

About 25 million people in this country struggle with at least of of the three eating disorders, and many stay silent on this issue, when they really need to reach out, Weiner said.

“They don’t know how to ask for (the) help they need,” Weiner said. “They don’t know how to express how they’re feeling inside, so they focus on things like the number on the scale or the size of their jeans, or the waist size, instead of being able to communicate what’s really going on for them.”

Shahri said that the campus should take more action in making students aware of issues like these. She said that all the classes on campus should make attending talks like this mandatory, or to announce talks like these in every class.

University counseling services offers free counseling and therapy sessions for students who want to seek help, Mayer said. In addition to that, the JADE program trains peer educators to talk in classes and clubs about body image and eating disorders.

Some of the warning signs of eating disorders are preoccupation with weight, food, and exercise, Weiner said.

“If eating, not eating, exercising, not exercising is what is hounding you 100 percent of the day and you can’t seem to take your mind off of it, those are good warning signs that you have a problem,” Weiner said. “If you’re feeling alone, withdrawn, isolated, depressed and you find yourself using or abusing food laxatives, dieting, or exercise, those are warning signs you want to look out for. Those are signs that there could be something deeper going on.”

Those who need help should find a therapist or a nutritionist, Weiner said.

“(Recovery) is not a quick fix,” Weiner said. “That is not something that happens overnight. Many people who recover from an eating disorder spend years and years getting help.”

To reduce the occurrences of eating disorders, there should be a focus on what is healthy, Weiner said.

“Those are also the things about your full wholeness and health, not just how much you weigh,” Weiner said. “We have to recognize that dieting, starving yourself, (and) working out until you’re exhausted is not a healthy lifestyle. That is not what’s going to get you ultimate happiness. That happiness is only and truly born from the inside.”