Suffering In Secret: The Causes and Effects of Eating Disorders at Tam

By Camille Kaufman

Julie’s Mom had made pasta for dinner that night. After excusing herself, Julie walked nervously upstairs, harsh thoughts racing through her head. At the end of the hallway, she turned into her room and looked in the mirror. She couldn’t stand to see the image that was reflected back at her.

“I remember being so disgusted with what I saw that everything inside me was screaming for me to do something about it,” said Julie, who requested her real name not be published. “I went to the bathroom and tried to purge.Throughout the years, Tam has managed to earn itself a pretty “chill” reputation.

“I think that Tam has a much more accepting vibe of people, but I think that there is still a significant amount of pressure on students to feel and look a certain way every day,” said senior Emily Banks. Many students claim that Tam is a very open, non-judgmental school where everyone is accepted.

“[Eating disorders] are not so much a problem at Tam, but it’s probably overall a serious problem,” said Senior Sarah Washburn.

However, a recent Tam News study of nearly 100 girls reported that 63 percent think that eating disorders have been forgotten at Tam.

“Eating disorders are definitely overlooked at Tam,” said Tam’s Bay Area Community Resources (BACR) counselor Emily Peairs. “I assume that many students at Tam struggle with them.”

A study performed by “The Archives of General Psychiatry” found that 0.3 percent of teens in America struggle from anorexia, 0.9 percent are bulimic, and 1.6 percent binge eat.

However, what may be more shocking are the even higher rates at Tam. According to the Tam News survey, 29 percent of girls have or have suffered from an eating disorder. Although boys also suffer from these issues, the problem is much more common in females.

“To some degree or another, I think that 90 percent of female students at Tam have an eating disorder,” said Julie.

Although nobody can know for sure what has caused the higher rates in eating disorders, many believe that the pressures from the media, family, and friends have had a large influence.

“I started [becoming anorexic] my freshman year because my mom was really harsh on me about my weight. [She said] that I was too fat and that I needed to lose weight,” said junior Laura, who also requested anonymity. “I believe that there is a lot of social pressure in general to be the girl that looks like the skinny Victoria’s Secret models, with a tiny waist and big breasts.”

“There’s an idea [about the perfect girl] that people have based off of what the media portrays, but it’s not really what people like,” said junior Riley Sykes.

One reason that these serious disorders may go unnoticed is because of the secrecy of those who suffer from them. According to Peairs, who works for the BACR to promote the healthy development of individuals, families, and communities, students with eating disorders will try to hide them because they feel guilty, shameful, or because they are too scared to give up their disorder before they are ready. These are people who have come to rely upon binge eating, bulimia, or anorexia as methods of coping with their anxiety.

“Eventually, I learned tricks to hide my disorder, like playing loud music to make sure no one heard me while I purged,” said Julie. “I was so good at keeping my disorder a secret that it eventually became easy to hide it from myself, to the point that I refused to believe anything was wrong with me. I felt like I had this secret power that was just mine to control, and the bigger the secret, the stronger I was.”

Eating disorders tend to go hand in hand with control issues. According to, a website on eating disorders, sufferers often feel they cannot control some aspect of their lives, so they find comfort in controlling the amount of food they consume.

These actions may cause very harmful results, in addition to the more obvious ones such as quick weight gain or weight loss, the diseases can lead to serious anxiety and difficulty focusing. According to Tam psychologist Karen Kubitschek, these disorders also often go along with stress, depression, and substance abuse.

“[Eating disorders] can really interfere with one’s concentration because a lot of your energy is being zapped; not only by being starved or by the effort it takes to rid one’s self of unwanted weight, but also by the preoccupation of the disorder,” said Kubitschek. “[People with these diseases] think a lot about their disorder. They think a lot about food, or not eating food.”

“I used to look forward to going to bed every night,” said sophomore Amelia, who used to struggle with anorexia and asked for her name to be withheld. “That way I could stop thinking about how to avoid eating food all the time.”

There is a large amount of emotional pain associated with eating disorders, which can seriously harm the afflicted. This is caused by the constant stress of having to monitor food intakes, how to not eat food, or planning binges.

“For a long time my disorder didn’t feel like something I did, but who I was. I would plan my evenings and days around purging, putting off homework and distancing myself from family, everything. If I was unsuccessful in [an attempt to purge] the shame and the guilt was so consuming, I literally couldn’t do anything,” said Julie. “My happiness depended on the success of a purge, and for so long it was the main source of happiness in my life.”

Of the students surveyed, 50 percent know of between two and four students with an eating disorder, and 6 percent know of more than four.

However, many of the surveyed students exhibited some symptoms of eating disorders themselves. The survey also showed that many students are prone to eating issues instead of eating disorders, such as thinking they are overweight, feeling guilty after eating, or skipping meals.

“A lot of girls have eating issues more so than eating disorders,” said Washburn. “One of my friends obsessively counts calories, but I don’t think that’s uncommon.” Even students who don’t show any signs of eating issues know people who have some symptoms.

“I don’t [know anyone with an eating disorder],” said freshman Maddy Hill. “But I know people who do crash diets.”

The Tam News survey found that 65 percent of students count their daily caloric intake. Although counting calories or skipping meals may seem harmless at first, these actions can eventually lead to an actual eating disorder.

“[If a friend has an eating disorder], be available to listen and refrain from giving advice – especially about food, dieting, weight, etc,” said Peairs. “Encourage your friend to seek help from parents, counselors, or other trusted adults.”

Both Laura and Amelia received help for their disorders after concerned friends and family members intervened.

“One of my guy friends ultimately said I needed to go to a doctor,” said Laura. “I think that friends should step in, and if [the person with the problem] just blows them off, then the friends should maybe suggest their name in either the Peer Resource or the counseling box just to get them the help that they may need.”

Although, Julie has not recieved any professional help, and although she has made improvements, she continues to struggle with her eating disorder.

Although confronting a friend with something as serious as an eating disorder may be challenging, diseases such as anorexia, binge eating, and bulimia should not go unnoticed. If you or one of your friends suffer from one of these disorders, please contact the counseling office or speak with a Tam or BACR counselor about your concerns.


Written by Camille Kaufman. This article was originally published in he May 2011 issue.