Eating, Culture, and Coping
We all have an emotional and culturally-shaped relationship to food: We sometimes eat foods we love for comfort and sometimes stay away from certain foods out of health or aesthetic concerns. We sort through masses of information, sometimes contradictory and often confounding, about which foods promote and which foods diminish health. We contend with and try to make sense of advertising, a major force in our culture, which extols the abstemious physique while simultaneously enticing us to indulge in treats.
It’s very confusing.
Moreover, females have been historically and remain more identified with their bodies than men. It is understandable that many females wrestle with their body image and eating.
Eating habits exist on a continuum, ranging from healthy to problematic to disordered (each is fully defined below). Eating habits become disordered when the pull to restrict intake or over-eat becomes unmanageable and when self-esteem becomes based on the amount of food recently digested or resisted. Eating problems often develop out of a diet, a very common practice. Certainly, not everyone on a diet is vulnerable to developing an eating disorder; however, restriction can become psychologically addictive. Restriction can also create powerful feeling of deprivation, which can be a set-up for a binge.
Problematic and disordered eating are outgrowths of a culture preoccupied with and confused about female appetite and intake. They are also ways of coping with difficult emotions and circumstances. Restriction blunts the emotional system and creates an illusory sense of control. Bingeing and purging discharge feelings that are not yet understood or directly communicated to others.
People are more prone to disturbed eating during times of stress and uncertainty. College is a time a massive transition, a bridge from adolescence to adulthood. It is often the first major separation from home, a time to form new friendships, re-define relationships with family, and explore and clarify one’s identity and aspirations. For many, college can be a period of doubt and pressure as well as excitement and maturation.
Resources at Barnard:
There is much confidential support and treatment available at Barnard for anyone who is struggling with food.
The Rosemary Furman Counseling Center, located on the first floor of Hewitt Hall (extension 4-2092). Psychologist/Team Coordinator, an eating-disorder specialist, offers consultations, assessments, individual short-term therapy, and on-going therapy groups.
Health Services, located at Lower Level Brooks Hall (extension 4-2091). An Internist, assesses and follows all medical aspects of eating disorders and provides nutritional support. Nutritionist, provides nutritional assessments and counseling.
Well-Woman Program, located at 119 Reid Hall (extension 4-3063). provides information and facilitates workshops on body image, nutrition, and healthy eating.
We hope you find this information helpful, but remember, self-help materials can provide only general information and guidance. If you're concerned about how one of these issues is affecting your life, visit us in the Furman Counseling Center to talk it over.:
Eating Concerns Links
- American Dietetic Association - the "eat right" site
- Nutrition Site - Tufts University
- National Eating Disorders Association
- ANRED - Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- About Face - this San Francisco volunteer group highlights media influence on eating disorders.
- Smart Nutrition 101 - all about what you eat
- Something Fishy - Eating Disorders
- Gurze - Information about Bulimia
To find out more, see our list of Eating Disorders Self-Help Guides and Books.