The University Record, June 7, 1993

Compulsive eating disorders linked to media messages about beauty

By Mary Jo Frank

Dieting makes compulsive eating disorders worse, says Catherine Powers, co-director of the Institute for Psychology and Medicine’s Eating Disorders Program.

Talking to more than 90 Workplace of the ’90s participants who attended the May 25 workshop “How to Free Yourself from Compulsive Eating and Start to Live,” Powers said diets fail for a number of reasons. They:

  • Create feelings of deprivation, leaving the dieter constantly in a state of want;

  • Perpetuate obsessions with food.

  • Often provide inadequate nutrition.

  • Treat the symptoms (weight) but not the compulsive eating disorder.

  • Slow down and upset metabolism.

  • Usually involve minimal or no support for the dieter.

    “For every diet, there is a binge to follow,” Powers said.

    Powers defined compulsive eating disorder as:

  • Repeated episodes of binge eating or overeating despite adverse consequences.

  • Eating when not physically hungry.

  • Feeling unable to stop eating.

  • Obsession with food, including buying and preparing food, and concerns about the next eating opportunity.

    Linked to compulsive eating disorders are messages the media present about beauty and ideal shapes and sizes, according to Barbara Glik, psychotherapist with the Eating Disorders Program.

    The average woman in the United States is 5 foot 3.8 inches tall and weighs 144 pounds, much shorter and heavier than the average model who is 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighs 117 pounds.

    “Are models real?” Glik asked. Pointing to a Cosmopolitan cover, Glik noted that artists had removed lines and used computer imaging and photographic techniques to improve even the model’s appearance.

    Every day we’re bombarded with messages from advertisements and the media equating perfumes, scented panty shields and breast augmentation with sexuality, Glik said.

    “How would it be to be okay today just as you are?” Glik asked members of the audience who came in all shapes and sizes, colors, ages and from a number of University units. A repeat workshop May 26 also was attended by about 90 staff members.

    Sheri Szuch, co-director of the Eating Disorders Program, said one of the keys to overcoming compulsive eating is to accept your body as it is now and live for today while working toward change.

    Szuch suggested:

  • Buy attractive clothes that fit and remove the clothes that you’ve outgrown from the closet.

  • Pamper your body with a hot bubble bath or an appointment to get your hair done.

    Szuch also shared tactics used in individual and group therapy treatment:

  • Eat only when you’re hungry. Don’t eat just because it’s mealtime. Pay attention to your stomach signals.

  • Eat a variety of foods. There are no forbidden foods. Give attention to what you enjoy eating and attempt to eat in a balanced manner.

  • Take 20 minutes to eat. Taste and savor your meals or snacks.

  • Limit distractions. Don’t eat in the car or standing up.

  • Eat only until full. If you take 20 minutes and are eating food you enjoy, this is easier to gauge. Remember you are not on a diet so you don’t have to eat it all now.

  • If you want to eat or you eat when you’re not hungry, think of how you’re feeling. Is it possible to stay with that feeling or refrain from eating for 20 minutes?