Thou shall live thy life by the scale — and for many Americans this means risking your life to attain an unhealthy weight.
The SUNY New Paltz Eating Disorders Awareness committee hosted a viewing of “America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments” on Thursday, March 29 in Lecture Center 100 as part of the college’s Healthy Living Awareness Week. The film deals with common problems in dieting, eating disorders and debates whether it was the willpower of the dieter or the instinctive need to eat that makes dieting so difficult for millions of Americans.
Writer and Director Darryl Roberts documented his trials of numerous popular dieting methods including $80 per gallon vegetable juice diets, detoxing, Picture Perfect Weight Loss, Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine. Roberts said diets were difficult for him to maintain and in most cases the changes in his diet led him to gain more weight than he lost; until his regimented exercise and healthy mind-set led him to lower his blood pressure from 160/108 to 116/72 — a drastic improvement.
Roberts also lost 11 pounds, and concluded that a healthy mindset can be more of an asset than a set of six-pack abs.
The documentary was followed by a panel discussion where the 41 students and faculty in attendance asked questions about weight and mental health to members of the Eating Disorders Awareness Committee including Dr. Gweneth Lloyd of the Psychological Counseling Center, the campus’ registered dietitian and nutritionist, Evelyn Gezo and Dr. Richard Ordway, director of Student Health Services.
Gezo spoke to the audience about problems with the Center for Disease Control’s Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements, like how the scale is the same for men and women. She said numbers can be skewed depending on the amount of muscle mass on the body.
“There’s no cookie-cutter approach to this,” Gezo said.
Gezo and Ordway then touched briefly on gastric bypass surgery and the uniqueness of each individual’s body type in relation to their weight.
Lloyd said it was important to use a calm demeanor when approaching a friend or family member dealing with an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia. She spoke about life in moderation, a lifestyle approach that does not ask the dieter to avoid certain foods altogether or demand an obsessive workout routine, but rather a healthy realistic approach to dieting.
Lloyd stressed the importance of self-love and acceptance.
Lloyd said eating disorders manifest through deep-seeded psychological and emotional issues. Where there are eating disorders, there is often deep psychological trauma. She said eating disorders, in some ways, greatly resemble an addiction — especially the way the afflicted interacts with others on a daily basis.
“They have it down to a science,” Lloyd said. “They know just how many calories they need to survive.”
Lloyd said college students are especially susceptible to developing eating disorders, because their sleep habits leave them deprived of a chance to rebuild. She said mental fatigue leads to the lack of ability to tolerate stress and anxiety. Lloyd estimates that her office sees about six or seven students a year about eating disorders.
Colleen A. Bruley, head coach of Women’s Soccer at New Paltz and a member of the Eating Disorders Awareness Committee, said she joined the committee four years ago to try to make a difference in students’ lives.
She said during her tenure at New Paltz she has dealt with two players that battled with eating disorders.
“It’s not about the food,” Bruley said. “It’s about the loss of control in one area of their life, and food is something they can control.”
Students at the screening were giving bookmarks covered in healthy living awareness tips, and blue water canisters given by the Psychological Counseling Center that had “Celebrate Our Natural Sizes” written underneath a half-hollow silhouette of a curvy person.
Sam Weiss, a first-year psychology major said the documentary met her expectations, which were admittedly low. Both of Weiss’ parents have undergone gastric bypass surgery, and she said the documentary drove a lot of emotion out of her, as well as her appetite.
“I felt like I didn’t want to eat for a week,” Weiss said.
Weiss said she has been working out up to six times a week since the eighth grade. She said after her parent’s surgeries, the family took action by dieting, eating more fresh foods. She said she also bought a treadmill for her home.
“People think you can look like a twig,” Weiss said. “As long as you’re healthy and happy, you’re fine.”
Brooke Teta, an undeclared first-year student, said she had to look away during scenes of stomach stapling, and lap banding. Her father underwent lap banding to try and combat his type one diabetes and back issues. She said she thinks that healthy lifestyles on campus could benefit from an improved diet at Hasbrouck Dining Hall.
“They need a bigger vegan section,” Teta said. “It’s pathetic.”
The documentary also included interviews with health and nutrition experts, including Michigan State University’s Dr. Jon Robison, former Ohio Senator Kevin Coughlin (who made it a law to measure Body Mass Index of children in first and third grades) and current Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who commented on the obesity epidemic.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders website, 95 percent of all dieters will regain their lost weight within five years and 91 percent of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, while 22 percent “often” or “always” dieted.