What Are We Hungry For?

December 2, 2004

Mills College Weekly

After Thanksgiving it's likely we can't imagine wanting to eat again.  For some of us that feeling will pass but for others it will linger.  For some of us, overeating on turkey day is a fun tradition that leaves us withh a little more than indigestion.  FOr others, the overeating causes great anziety and many even triger drastic and harmful behavior.  And for others, there is no eating at all.

According to the National Association of Anorezia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, clinical anorezia nervosa is characterized by emaciation, profound weight loss, loss of senses, and extreme caloric restriction.  Clinical bulimia is characterized by secretive bring and purging behaviors.  Both of these addictions are associated with food and body image obession, a distorted body image, and depression. ANAD estimates somewhere between 20 percent and 40 precent of college-aged women are bullimic or anorexic.

But eating disorders are not entirely an either /or phenomenon.  They are part of continuum.  At one end is a confident and healthy image based on robust array of personal addictions that holds self-esteem hostage.  On the healthy end of the specturm, a person eats in reponse to internal cues of physiological hunger.  On the mre troubled end of the spectrum eating (or not eating) is divorced from physiological needs completely.

The reality of our lives is that very few people lie at either end of the continuum.  We are all somewhere in between.

Who amoung us has not found emotional comfort in a bowl of ice cream?  Personally I have soft spot for chicken noodle soup and pumpkin pie.  I reach for them when I feek young, safe, and taken care of even though my father is no longer the one bringing them to me.  I don't crave them when I'm hungry.  I crave them when I'm sad or afraid or overwhelmed.  We all modify our food intake in reponse to emotional hunger.

And amoung us has not embarked on some effort to change our physical appearance?  Wearking out, dieting, coloring, straightening, or curling our hair all qualiify.  According to Women' Issues, 91 percent  of college-aged women have attempted to control their weight through dieting with 22 percent of them dieting " always."  This is especially disconcerting because 35 percent of "normal dieters" progress to patholgical dieting. Of those, 20-25 percent progress to partial or full sydrome eating disorders.  Rader Programs report that two out of five women and out of five would trade three to five years of their life to achieve their goal body weight.

Perhaps that is understandable considering that the average women is 5'4'' abd weighs 140 lbs. while the average model is 5'11''and weighs around 117 lbs.  That means the most fahsion models are thinner than 98 percent of American women.  Certainly popular culture doesn't help young women develop healthy ideas about self-image, beauty, and personal value.  When that is combined with high stress, uncertain times, other trama, or just the confusion of coking of age, its's easy to see how one can slide towards the troubled end of that spectrum.

I believe we need to be honest with ourselves and being honest about where along that continuum we lie.  And we need to see the closer we can fet to that healthy ideal on one end, the happier and more fulfuilled we will be.  Health begins will paying attention to others and ourselves and being honest about what we observe.  We need to be willing to reach out, perhaps even confrontationally, to people who exhibits warning signs.,

There are too many of us who are held hostage, some more severly than others.  But what should we be looking for in ourselves than others. But what should be looking for in others?  How can we discern where someone is along that spectrum?  And, most importantly, what do we do once we've answered these questions?

Exploring where we go from here will be the topic of my next column in the spring.  Hopefully we'll be welcoming in a healthier and happier new year.

What Are We Hungry For? was published on December 2, 2004 in Sports & Health

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