Chandler Rand, a Marine veteran, has struggled with various eating disorders since she was a child. Though she says she's healthy now, she says her recovery is an ongoing process.
Though she says she's healthy now, she says she's still struggling with negative thoughts regarding her appearance and weight.
As Rand explains, it is similar to walking a tightrope.
In 2016, Rand was in the Marines. When she was a teenager, she was successfully treated for anorexia, but after boot camp, she began to binge eat and developed bulimia.
This meant meeting military standards for weight and fat. Meanwhile, she was dealing with a sexual assault that occurred in college.
Her eating habits were affected by the assault.
You just want to obsess over something besides panic and sadness, she says. "So you put your moral standards on food and fitness."
Rand, who develops dangerous eating habits while serving, receives little attention from Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. Veterans in Connecticut are three times more likely than civilians to have bulimia.
In the military, some individuals develop eating disorders, and after they leave the military, others struggle with eating disorders.
Robin Masheb, a researcher psychologist and the founder of the Veterans Initiative for Eating and Weight, says that she saw a lot of binge eating disorders in veterans, but she also wanted to know about these other disorders. The program is one of the few that studies eating disorders in veterans.
She says there are risk factors unique to military service that go beyond strict weight requirements.
These types of activities may also contribute to the development of eating disorders in later life." Masheb says. People may go for long periods of time without eating or eat very rapidly under certain conditions.".
Veterans who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to have eating disorders.
Rand believes all of the above can lead to eating disorders, aside from height and weight requirements.
There are so many rules and numbers in military life, she says.
Rand explains that you are scored on your fitness tests and combat fitness tests. You are also awarded points for your conduct, proficiency, and shooting on the rifle range. As long as you're in that perfect score range, then it's just another score you have to hit."
In his new study, Masheb examines how VA doctors can screen for eating disorders in veterans. In order to explore veterans' relationship with food, she is experimenting with different approaches.
As Masheb says, "typically, men - and even more typical, our veterans - don't like the idea of being out of control." Being in the military means being in control.
Masheb received a Department of Defense grant for the purpose of testing virtual therapy for veterans with eating disorders. There are other challenges, like busting the myth that eating disorders only happen to women or that overweight people can't have an eating disorder.
New guidelines from the Department of Defense have made it easier for service branches to relax weight and fitness standards.
Masheb and Rand concur that this is an important first step. Yet, the guidelines still let each branch decide whether to use body mass index, a measurement that uses height to set weight goals.
She doesn't understand the height and weight standards.
She says that if people realize they are not required to meet this number or be below that number, they may not feel so at risk. The mentality would be altered.