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Starvation in Silicon Valley: Analyzing Eating Disorders

Why are these such a big deal?

Eating disorders affect people from all genders, races, and sexual orientations. At least 30 million people in the world suffer from an eating disorder. This is a problem because about one person every hour dies as a result, making it the mental illness with the highest death rate. There are many factors that can contribute to make people prone to developing an eating disorder such as genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits. There are four main eating disorders, however for my research I focused on two in specific because those are the ones that are most prevalent in my community.

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Affects people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, race, and ethnicity.
  • 1 in 10 women will suffer from Anorexia in their lifetime.
  • 50-80% of the risk to develop Anorexia Nervosa is genetic.  
  • Characterized by weight loss, difficulties maintaining appropriate weight for ones height, age, or stature, and distorted body image.
  • Often begins with calorie restriction and often progresses to over exercise and food obsession.
  • Obsession from food can usually be traced to an anxiety disorder, as approximately 50% of sufferers also have a diagnosed anxiety disorder.

Bulimia Nervosa

  • Bulimia Nervosa also affects people of all genders, ages, sexual orientations, race, and ethnicity.
  • 50-80% of the risk of developing Bulimia Nervosa is genetic.
  • Characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating, and inappropriate behavior to prevent weight gain (Binge eating is eating an amount of food during a discrete period of time that is larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time and under similar circumstances).
  • Inappropriate behaviors to prevent weight gain include self induced vomiting, the use of laxatives, diuretics, fasting, and excessive exercise.
  • In order to be diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa, both binge eating along with at least one other symptom of inappropriate behavior must occur at least once a week for three months.

Symptoms and Warning Signs

Physical Emotional Behavioral
  • Weight Fluctuations (up & down)
  • Dizziness/Fainting
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Brittle Nails/Dry and thin hair
  • Cavities/Teeth discoloration
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Yellow skin tone
  • Feeling Cold
  • Menstrual Irregularities
  • Sleep Issues
  • Fine hair on body
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Uncomfortable eating in front of others
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Dissatisfied with physical appearance
  • Denial of hunger
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, dieting, etc.
  • Skipping meals or taking small portions
  • Refusal to eat certain foods or groups of food
  • Hoarding large amounts of food
  • Excessive exercise

The Stigma

One of the main assumptions that people have about eating disorders is that they are a body-hating illness. While this can definitely be the cause for some people,  there are plenty of other factors that could also lead to the development of an eating disorder. One of these factors is control. Often times when people are suffering from an anxiety disorder or just feel like they do not have control of their life at a specific time they start to focus control on anything that they can, in this case it would be food. This leads to the obsessiveness with portioning food, counting calories, restricting diet, purging, etc. Some other factors that can lead to the development of an eating disorder are genetics and personality traits. A large portion of people who suffer from eating disorders have genetic and personality traits that are linked to perfectionism and obsessiveness. One of the goals of my project is to educate my community about the factors that put people at risk of developing eating disorders and to break down the stigma so that people realize that they run a lot deeper than just body hatred.

Analyzing Factors in the Silicon Valley

One of the main parts of my project was to take all of my research and analyze the factors in Silicon Valley that are contributing to the development of eating disorders in teens. Through interviewing an occupational therapist in my area, I was able to identify factors specific to Silicon Valley that align with my other research. Silicon Valley is a very affluent community with a lot of very accomplished people which leads to high expectations for the kids living in the community. This then contributes to a lack of control that teenagers feel in their own lives. There is an enormous amount of  pressure from multiple outside sources such as parents, college counselors, teachers, each other, coaches, etc. to be successful, however, there are not enough accessible resources for mental health once those pressures are exacerbated on students. Students are expected to maintain good grades, take AP courses, and get into a top university while maintaining mental stability. One of the main issues that I was able to identify is that mental health in Silicon Valley is rarely addressed. It is an unspoken issue that people are expected to deal with privately and there are not enough resources for students to get the support that they need to deal with all of the pressures of the area.


THE SOLUTION:

Eliminating these Factors

  • Changing expectations
    • Less expectations→ less pressure to excel in all aspects
  • Modifying perspective on what’s important for teens
  • Prioritize mental health above success
    • Maintain healthy balance by making time to relieve pressure
    • No balance can lead to feeling overwhelmed and controlless

How well do your parents know you? Take the Survey!

This is a survey that I created that I would love for you to fill out about how well your parents really know you: https://goo.gl/forms/4WjKGhop48eRKnpw1 (it is completely anonymous)

Parental Awareness

Along with educating the students in my community, my other main goal is to educate parents on ways that they can support their children in order to take steps to prevent the development of an eating disorder before it’s too late. I also wanted to educate parents on how they can recognize these symptoms so that they can help their child. I made a pamphlet with information about what contributes to developing an eating disorder, the warning signs, and ways that parents can lessen the odds for their own children.

I wanted to do this because I interviewed one of my friends who struggled with anorexias mom. She said that she had always believed that she would be able to spot the signs of an eating disorder in her own children because her sister had struggled with one when she was younger, however this was not the case. She also said that treatment was both hard on her and my friend because she had to supervise all of her meals and force her to eat which made my friend hate her because she basically had to give her “medicine” which was food. I want to limit the strain that eating disorders put on familial relationships as well by educating parents on how to support their children and take preventative measures.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the helpline at (800) 931-2237


SOURCES CITED:

“About Eating Disorders.” ANAD Your Future Is Worth Fighting For , National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, www.anad.org/.

“Anorexia Nervosa.” NEDA Feeding Hope, National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/.

“Bulimia Nervosa.” NEDA Feeding Hope, National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/.

Ramsey, Meaghan. Why Thinking You’re Ugly Is Bad For YouTED, TED Conferences, Sept. 2014.

Staff, Casa Palmera. “5 Ways Parents Can Prevent Eating Disorders.” Casa Palmera , Casa Palmera Treatment Center, 15 Jan. 2015, casapalmera.com/blog/5-ways-parents-can-prevent-eating-disorders/.

“Types of Treatment.” NEDA Feeding Hope, National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/.

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COMMENTS: 12
  1. April 26, 2018 by Sarah.Packer

    I thought you chose an interesting topic I would not have personally thought of because everyone tends to stereotype silicon valley as this perfect utopia of technology. I think you did an awesome job with your explanation of the types of eating disorders, warning signs and symptoms. Do you think some areas are more likely to have a higher percentage of the population with eating disorders or do you think the geography does not matter? Nice job!

    • April 26, 2018 by Abbey Pan

      I thought it was interesting how you mentioned how Silicon Valley in particular is oftentimes popularized as this “perfect utopia” because I think that this image and preconceived notion that is associated with Silicon Valley contributes to the development of these underlying issues. The pressure of living up to/matching this perfect image is at the roots of these problems.

      • April 30, 2018 by Tatum Angotti

        Yes I completely agree. Part of the issue is that people across the nation, not only those in California, have a notion about Silicon Valley and what success looks like because of all of the successful moguls and businesses that come out of here. These expectations are what creates an immense pressure on teens.

    • April 30, 2018 by Tatum Angotti

      I think that while eating disorders do occur everywhere, geography definitely can contribute to a higher percentage. For example, I know that along with Silicon Valley, Los Angeles has a large number of eating disorder which I can assume has to do with the entertainment industry and the pressures to stay slim.

  2. April 26, 2018 by Trinity.Rollins

    This was a really interesting topic! Agreeing with Sarah ^, I never would’ve thought of this topic, but it makes sense to try and go to something we are exposed to every day to try and relieve a source of pressure to be perfect. The one thing I would suggest is perhaps a more specific title – initially I thought you were looking into eating disorders of those working in silicon valley. All of your information about eating disorders was super helpful and informative! Nice work!

    • April 30, 2018 by Tatum Angotti

      Thank you for your suggestion, I’ll definitely start thinking about how to make a title more specific to my project.

  3. April 26, 2018 by Annika.Singh

    I like that you chose this topic and made it specific to where you live and it was a topic that would I would not have thought of. As Sarah said, I don’t usually picture eating disorders or issues of mental health when I think of Silicon Valley. I really liked that you address the idea that all eating disorders start when you hate your body. People tend to go to that immediately, but there are so many other reasons. Also, I think your survey is restricted so only some people can view it (I wasn’t able to), you can fix that in the settings of the form I think. Overall, great job! Your presentation is super informative!

    • April 30, 2018 by Tatum Angotti

      Thank you so much for letting me know about the survey!

  4. April 27, 2018 by Grace Battles

    Hey Tate! I thought your topic was very interesting, given it is a reality I too have to deal with everyday living in Silicon Valley. I loved the execution of your project also. It was super clear as well as informative.

  5. April 27, 2018 by Saanya Kapasi

    This was such an interesting topic to chose, for as many people have mentioned, eating disorders in Silicon Valley is not something commonly thought of. I also greatly appreciated that you wanted to educate parents on this issue, as eating disorders tend to strike adolescents, and your pamphlet was so well made! Awesome work.

  6. April 30, 2018 by Caroline.Herzfeld

    Your cover picture immediately caught my attention! And the rest of your page kept my engaged the whole time – the visuals were incredible.

  7. May 04, 2018 by Grant.Komin

    Great job on this project, Tatum. I loved the big graphics to keep me interested and I am so glad that you put this important issue out there for people to read. Keep up the good work and good luck in college next year!

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