MSU community reaches out to those with eating disorders
Student Health Services nutritionist Ronda Bokram discusses services to help MSU students with eating disorders.
Editor’s note: The headline has been updated to more accurately reflect the story.
College students deal with many stresses in their lives — from friends to school work to parties — but Alex Tricozzi also faces a disorder that has dominated her life since her sophomore year of high school.
The nursing senior is one of 1 percent of MSU students diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. according to the 2012 National College Health Assessment for MSU students. About 0.8 percent of MSU students are diagnosed bulimia nervosa.
“This past fall, I was concerned with the amount of food I was eating to the point (where) I was in tears,” Tricozzi said. “When I feel like life gets crazy, I start eating crazy.”
She took the initiative and sought treatment, something 85.9 percent of students diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and 82.5 percent with bulimia nervosa receive, according to the survey.
This week, people across the nation are learning about and understanding those who struggle with an eating disorder during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
MSU joined the effort last week, holding several events to promote healthy body image, said Ronda Bokram, Student Health Services staff nutritionist in the Health Education Department and lead event organizer.
“It’s easy to give someone body image issues by making them feel like they need to be something different than what they are,” Bokram said.
How it begins
After losing about 30 percent of her body weight her sophomore year of high school, Tricozzi went to an inpatient treatment facility and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, which comes from the word “anorexia,” a Latin term meaning “lack of appetite.”
Her problems followed her to college, where she began binge eating. Tricozzi said she went through a vicious cycle of gaining and losing weight during college and exercising excessively.
“In high school, I was really just restricting to the point that I was way too thin,” she said. “In college, I lost a lot of weight and I realized I needed to gain more weight, (and) finally this year it became difficult to do school work.”
More than 50 percent of the risk for developing a disorder is because of genetic risk factors, according to the research of Kelly Klump, a professor in the Department of Psychology, past president of the Academy for Eating Disorders and an expert in genetic and biological risk factors for eating disorders.
Klump said the genetic risk is determined by multiple genes, and a disorder is developed when both the inside and outside factors come together.
“It is a psychiatric disorder that has significant biological and genetic contributions,” Klump said. “We know that the cultural pressures for thinness — those are harmful — particularly harmful if you have a genetic risk for the disorder.”
Tricozzi said she is not aware of eating disorders in her family, although she said some members of her extended family have struggled with their weight.
Bokram said eating disorders traditionally have been thought of as a “woman’s disease.”
“When I first started in their field, when asked if you could describe someone with an eating disorder, it would be white, female, upper-socioeconomic class and usually upper high school and college age,” Bokram said. “Now, it doesn’t matter what age, doesn’t matter what gender, doesn’t matter what ethnicity, and we have a lot of international students who struggle.”
Along with a lack of understanding of people affected by eating disorders, there also are questions about what is an eating disorder.
There are three main types of eating disorders — anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
Klump said symptoms of anorexia nervosa include avoiding food, significant weight loss and increased exercise to the point of being excessive. A sub-type of anorexia nervosa involves binge eating, purging or a combination of both.
Bulimia nervosa is more difficult to recognize than anorexia nervosa because most people with the disorder have a normal body weight, Klump said. Some signs of the disorder in others include visiting the bathroom after meals, finding redness in the toilet from self-induced vomiting and strictly dieting during the day without noticeable weight loss, Klump said.
“If you have a roommate and you see that large amounts of food disappear overnight, they leave for many hours at a time and there are lots of food wrappers in their car — they will go and drive around and binge eat in cars sometimes,” she said.
People with binge eating disorder usually don’t induce vomiting or use diuretics or laxatives, which are signs of other disorders, to compensate for the excessive amounts of food they consume.
This can sometimes result in significant weight gain, Klump said.
Although the symptoms of some of the disorders overlap, the difference between anorexia nervosa and the other disorders is weight.
If someone’s current weight is 85 percent or less of the ideal weight=, it could be interpreted as anorexia nervosa.
Bokram is part of an eating disorder team through MSU Student Health Services that’s free to students, and includes a counselor and other medical providers. Bokram also refers many students to the Inner Door Center in Royal Oak, Mich.
Beverly Price, an alumna and founder of the Inner Door Center, said the center treats eating disorders with mainstream therapy, with an emphasis on yoga.
Tricozzi said she first visited the center this past winter break, and still goes there once a week. She said her family, friends and fiance also give her strong support.
“I just want to help people, whether that’s through medicine or my words,” she said.
“I never want to see my kids struggle with food or with body image.”