National Eating Disorder Awareness week promotes healthy habits
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 22:02
Senior Hillary Porter, co-president and co-founder of Active Minds, says National Eating Disorder Awareness Week teaches students to talk about eating disorders.
“Our goal is to educate students on the signs of eating disorders and also how to speak about appearances,” Porter says. “It’s not always about what people look like or how much they weigh. We’re more complex than that.”
University Resident Student Organizations such as the NEDA Committee, Project HEAL, Active Minds and Haven are bringing in speakers and hosting events for NEDA. These events run Feb. 24 through Mar. 2 and promote healthy body image and mental health for college students.
Active Minds aims to provide resources to students, raise awareness for mental health issues and eliminate the stigmas associated with mental health. This year Active Minds is hosting an event entitled “The Truth About Eating Disorders,” featuring member of the Mental Health Speakers Bureau Stacy Pershall who will discuss her struggles with eating disorders and various mental disorders.
Senior Lauren Tedeschi , co-president and co-founder of Active Minds, says discussing a variety of mental health disorders is important because there are many similarities between mental health issues and eating disorders. Eating disorders often occur simultaneously with anxiety disorders and depression, Tedeschi says and can stem from other mental issues and can begin as a means of control.
According to the NEDA, nearly 20 million women suffer from eating disorders. Sophomore Mackenzie Bowman, president and co-founder of Project HEAL, says the public does not take eating disorders are not taken as seriously enough.
“Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental illness and people don’t think about that,” Bowman says. “They think it’s a choice and that you can eat whenever you want or just get better but it’s not. It’s an illness.”
Laura McGrath, program coordinator for the Student Center and adviser for NEDA, says students understand what the extremes of anorexia and bulimia can be, but they might not recognize minor hints of disordered eating. Destructive eating patterns like skipping occasional meals or constant calorie counting can still hurt students in the end, she says. Not everyone has struggled with a full-blown eating disorder but everyone has struggled with their weight or with body image at some point, McGrath says.
Sophomore Emily Suprise, co-founder and secretary of Project HEAL, says disordered eating patterns are practically universal on college campuses.
“We’ve all gone through something like that or known someone who has and to just say that it’s something you can control, it’s really not,” Suprise says. “There are people that really need help and it’s not an issue that can be pushed aside.”
Suprise says college students are especially vulnerable to eating disorders because they are under large amounts of stress and removed from home and their support groups. She says eating becomes even more of a problem when students are responsible for their own meals.
Bowman and Porter argue that our culture is too focused on weight, food and body type.
“I think people joke about eating disorders all of the time,” Bowman says. “Every year during the Victoria Secret fashion show, everyone’s like, ‘Oh, not eating today.’ And people make jokes about these things but it’s not funny because people are really struggling with it. A lot of people forget that eating disorders effect guys, too.”
Porter says college students commonly comment on weight loss, eating patterns and workout habits. Body image is immersed in students’ day-to-day lives, she says.
NEDA Week is an opportunity to recognize these common thought processes regarding body image and change them to more healthy and positive choices, Porter says.
“If someone were to have an eating disorder and no one knows about it, it might help them see that they’re not the only one struggling,” Porter says. “We’re hoping that this will help them reach out and seek help from somebody.”
After each NEDA event, representatives from the university will discuss where students can go to seek help. McGrath says counselors will be available after every event to set up appointments for those who request their help.
NEDA week is not the only opportunity students have to address their body image concerns, as the university offers a wide variety of resources to students struggling with eating disorders.
Resident Assistants are trained to help their residents who are experiencing problems, and students can seek counseling through the Counseling Center. Dietitians are available through Student Health Services, and detailed information and programs are available through Student Health and Wellness. McGrath says students have plenty of options—it just comes down to when they are ready to seek help and which path to recovery they decide to take.
“Eating disorders are a quiet struggle,” McGrath says. “Society cares what other people think and there are negative stigmas surrounding eating disorders and mental health issues. NEDA tells students that there are resources available to them and that they don’t have to go at it alone.”