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Not eating in public is one of several behaviors known in the eating disorder community as EDNOS, or eating disorders not otherwise specified. Purging occasionally, chewing a large amount of food but spitting it out, and obsessively dieting also fall into this category.
“That is where people fall in the cracks,” says Lynn Grefe, chief executive of the National Eating Disorder Association, which will hold its annual conference in San Diego next month to help families, treatment providers and educators. “They’re not getting treatment, and they think, ‘I don’t really have a problem, do I?’ “
Bernardo Carducci, director of Indiana University Southeast’s Shyness Research Institute, calls it the Scarlett O’Hara syndrome. In a famous scene in Gone With the Wind, Scarlett’s maid tells her not to eat at a barbecue if she wants to uphold her reputation.
“She’s pulling her in that corset, and then she’s saying, ‘We want you to eat a little bit now so you won’t eat when you go to the party,’ ” says Carducci, adding that the message reinforces stereotypes about feminine appearance and social behavior.