“By Food Possessed”

Some binge and purge, others starve themselves. All for the sake of an image.
By Margaret Combs
Women’s Sports Magazine – February 1982

At 28 years old, slender and tan, Jean Johnson is what you might call a perfect example of today’s woman: agressive, athletic, successful. In between attending courses for a master’s degree in nursing, she jogs two miles a day, rows four days a week and bicycles a weekly 200 miles. In her spare time she goes backpacking and rock climbing; in the winter she skis.

But there is a strange aspect to Jean’s active life. She vomits everyday, sometimes three times a day – and she does it to keep her weight down.

Jean Johnson’s habit is called bulimia, from the Greek word for “great hunger” or “insatiable appetite.” This psychiatric disorder has become alarmingly prevalent among young women (it’s rarely seen in men). Many clinicians believe it has reached epidemic proportions.

Dr. David Herzog from the Eating Disorders Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston says as many as one in five college students are believed to have bulimia. A recent article in the hospital’s newsletter brought in 50 calls the first day it appeared.

Closely linked to bulimia is anorexia nervosa, a more severe disorder involving prolonged, self-induced starvation. An anorexic person loses at least 25 percent of her body weight and often requires hospitalization and forced feeding to ensure her survival.

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