Boulder, Colorado is one of the most beautiful and tranquil spots in the U.S. The beautiful Rocky Mountains and the high altitude magically draw in the physically fit and the outdoor enthusiasts.
Boulder is a city centered on health and healthy living. It’s earned the title of “skinniest” city in the country and, while that sounds wonderful on the surface, things aren't always what they seem.
Suffering in Silence
There’s a secret hiding behind a concerning number of doors in Boulder. In an effort to fit into the city’s skinny mold, frightening numbers of Boulderites have turned to anorexia or bulimia. According to a 2011 assessment, the University of Colorado-Boulder reported nearly triple the national average of eating disorders among women compared to other college campuses, with the number of men at almost double the national average.
A Big Weight Issue
While it’s true that the whole country has seen a rise in the number of eating disorders diagnosed, Boulder is in the middle of a particularly intense development.
"I actually feel sometimes like Boulder is eating disorder-genic," says Dr. Malia Sperry Clinical Director and founder of La Luna Center in Boulder.
She says the city’s near obsession with thinness and a fit physique, while well-intended, can actually translate into some pretty unhealthy social pressures. That’s especially true for school-age children. At that age, all a kid wants to do is fit in with his or her peers. If they aren't skinny enough or muscular enough, a negative body image can quickly develop.
Another issue is that it’s hard to tell when following a strict diet, avoiding certain foods, or undertaking extreme exercise regimens can turn into disordered eating.
"People are often like, 'Good for you for exercising all day.' It's socially acceptable, but it can get out of control," says Dr. Sperry.
"For some, it's just a way to have a socially acceptable, negative relationship with food."
An unhealthy relationship with food or a negative body image can affect men and women of all ages. It’s hard enough to live in a Hollywood culture that’s saturated by skinny models and media outlets obsessed with pointing out the smallest of body flaws. When you add in the intensified pressures of living in the nation’s “skinniest” city, things can quickly spiral out of control.
As for treatment and prevention, CU-Boulder has expanded its outreach via the Wardenburg Health Center, the primary healthcare facility for students. To help students that might be struggling with eating disorders or body image issues, the health center now has an eating disorder coordinator (who is also a psychologist), a medical clinic with doctors that specialize in eating disorders, and a registered dietitian on staff.