U.S. Women Fear Food, Self-Image; Study: 'Disordered Eating' Rife

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

It's not just the epic struggle with calories and the waistline.

Anxious, angry and melancholy, 75 percent of American women admit to "disordered eating" owing to a fear of fatness, distorted self-image and unrealistic expectations about dieting, according to research released yesterday by the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine.

Food has become a complicated issue for women. What they eat - or don't eat - is often equated with happiness. Some diet even though they are at a healthy weight. Skipping meals, smoking to stay slim and extreme attention to calorie counting is common.

That little holiday weight gain? More than a quarter of women would be "extremely upset" if they put on just five pounds.

"These behaviors cut across racial and ethnic lines and are not limited to any one group," said Cynthia R. Bulik, a nutrition professor at the campus, who led the research.

"Women who identified their ethnic backgrounds as Hispanic or Latina, white, black or African American and Asian were all represented among the women who reported unhealthy eating behaviors," she said.

The research was based on a survey of more than 4,000 women who revealed intimate eating habits, from the amount of time they spent dieting to how often they thought about food.

Two-thirds of them were actually on a diet while more than half dieted even though they were of a normal weight. Some said they lied about their dieting - not to mention their weight. Others admitted their weight and body image was "the most important aspect" of their self-identity.

Dieting extremes were not uncommon.

"What we found most surprising was the unexpectedly high number of women who engage in unhealthy purging activities. …