Rutgers research studies new eating disorder, body image


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Photo by Edwin Gano |

Rutgers-Camden professor Charlotte Markey focuses on eating behaviors, weight management and body image, with a focus on maladaptive approaches to weight management. Her latest focus is on orthorexia, an abnormal and distressing over-concern with healthy eating, often to the point that an individual will limit their diet in such a way that they risk malnutrition. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY EDWIN GANO / PHOTO EDITOR


In a world immersed in a sea of impossible beauty standards, Rutgers—Camden professor Charlotte Markey tackles the causes of various eating disorders through her research.

Markey’s research focuses on eating behaviors, weight management and body image, with a focus on maladaptive approaches to weight management. Her investigations are unique in that she is a developmental psychologist, while a majority of research on eating disorders come from a clinician’s viewpoint.

“Only a minority, greater than 1 percent it appears, (of body image publications) can be found in developmental psychology journals and even fewer are longitudinal studies in peer reviewed journals,” Markey said in her paper, "Invited Commentary: Why Body Image is Important in Adolescent Development".

One eating disorder that is not clinically recognized but is on the rise is orthorexia. 

“(Orthorexia is) an abnormal and distressing over-concern with healthy eating, often to the point that an individual will limit their diet in such a way that they risk malnutrition,” Markey said.

She hopes that patients with orthorexia will work with dietitians and psychologists to change the way they view their food consumption. 

“They do not need to ‘obsess’ about health eating to be healthy,” she said.

Markey’s work is especially relevant to University students at a time in which undergraduates are still developing their self-image, both internally and externally.

“As you grow, you’re pressured to think about (eating habits),” Lyla Kaul said, a Rutgers Business School first-year student. 

Kaul is planning to switch her major to nutrition in the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences after watching several documentaries exposing the corruption of the food industry.

“It’s easy (to be vegan) at home, but eating in the dining hall is hard sometimes — to figure out what’s vegan and what’s not,” Kaul said. “Sometimes they denote what’s vegan, but sometimes they don’t, so it’s kind of confusing.”

Markey has also studied how “identity development” relates to one’s body image. She cites “academic competence, popularity and social acceptance, romantic appeal and physical appearance” in her Invited Commentary study.

Her research elaborates on a trend seen in other psychiatric studies. In Wiener and Dulcan’s "Textbook of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry," eating disorders are strongly linked with body image: “Many girls still adopt traditional roles that reflect their low self-image and self-doubt, diminishing their creative and intellectual potential and their chances for professional success.”

Professional success is of interest here, considering Markey’s original intent of all this research. 

“I’ve had an interest in body image and eating behaviors since my childhood, when I was a student at San Francisco Ballet School,” she said.

As depicted in Academy Award-winning “Black Swan," the life of a ballerina is filled with self-doubt and a hyper-vigilance to self-image, as actress Natalie Portman descends into madness, confusing her reality with her apparitions.

Body image is not exclusive to one gender. 

Markey wrote that “both adolescent girls and boys talk with their friends about their appearances and changing their appearances (e.g., dieting, muscle building) and peers’ feedback is associated with adolescents’ behavioral attempts to alter their bodies."

School of Engineering freshman Dustin Cheung said he has been “trying to eat cleaner” since he arrived at the University and “started going to the gym.” While most of his friends attend the gym with him, he said he feels comfortable with his current eating habits.

Despite all the possible outcomes of influences to body image, Markey believes that further “developmental research addressing the potentially positive ways that youths influence each other’s body image and encourage healthy eating and physical activity patterns is needed.”


Bushra Hasan

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