It is estimated that 10% of college women nationally suffer from an eating disorder. Here at UW Madison, we think that’s a low estimate. Reportedly 1-4% of women experience bulimia (binging and purging) at some time in in their life, and across all ages, an estimated 1 in 200 women experience anorexia. About half as many men struggle with these issues, although reporting is low, as there is additional social stigma around being male and having eating related issues. Apart from the full blown eating disorders, in our thinness-obsessed society, rare is the person who does not worry about weight and food at some time.
Many emotional issues get played out through eating or not eating — issues of control, comfort, self-denial, anxiety, punishment, anger, soothing, and so on. Each one of us must navigate our relationship to food several times a day. We can’t end the relationship, and trying too hard to control it can prove to be very difficult. How do we become skillful in feeding our bodies healthfully, and making peace with our unique natural body shape and size? A healthy relationship with food is only possible on the foundation of a healthy relationship with yourself.
Disordered eating often begins in early adolescence, and can become paired with other developmental tasks of that tumultuous time of life — such as identity formation, body image, and self concept. If an individual’s relationship to food gets derailed at that time in life, it takes effort and attention to re-work habits of mind and action to reach a realistic, body- positive sense of self with established principles of self acceptance and self nurture. This requires effective ways to manage feelings that don’t involve using food as something other than a means of pleasure and sustenance. We offer insight oriented, DBT, and CBT approaches for this purpose.
We welcome you to this complex conversation, grounded in respect and compassion. When we can forgive ourselves for our “failures,” it makes a compassionate relationship with ourselves possible. This, in turn, allows us to befriend our bodies, and to feed them with intelligence and care.