Eating disorders: Too taboo?
Eating disorders are serious, severe diseases that often plague students. Despite the prevalence of this issue, the topic is often taboo and hardly ever discussed. With such little discussion regarding them, it may be difficult to garner and locate the resources necessary to recover from such a condition.
Fortunately, there are various options on campus. Specifically, the university offers students multiple resources, such as Student Health Services, Counseling Center and Student Health and Wellness. Within the Student Health Center, there are two dietitians and a physician to cater to the needs of any student faced with an eating disorder.
“Recommendations are based on an each individual’s needs and some students are referred off campus for treatment,” Michele Juarez-Huffaker, a psychologist in the Center for Counseling and Student Development (CCSD), says. “Because eating disorders can take a long time to treat, they are often best treated in long-term therapy with a specialist in the community since CCSD uses a brief therapy model.”
To find such a specialist in the area, the CCSD provides individuals with eating disorders some options. The referral coordinator, Allison Banbury, can give students the names of some eating-disorder specialists in the area, while also explaining how much their insurance can cover their needs.
In some cases, these resources work together to provide the best care for a patient.
“Since eating disorders have medical issues, the standard of care everywhere is for a treatment team consisting of a psychologist, medical doctor and a dietitian,” Juarez-Huffaker says. “If an eating disorder is severe, students may be treated in an intensive outpatient program or inpatient program.”
The process for each patient is specialized, but many students with eating disorders are referred to the university’s Student Health Services to meet with a registered dietitian and a physician. To ensure students are receiving adequate treatment and gradually recovering, students may consult with some CCSD staff and the dietitians at SHS several times a semester.
Besides these options that the university offers, there are other opportunities to learn about eating disorders that encourage healthy eating and body positivity. For instance, there are panel sessions, movie nights and walks related to the condition throughout the year. Many of these events are sponsored by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), a national organization run by college students from across the nation. Such events and opportunities create awareness about an often-overlooked subject.
Many individuals do not fully comprehend the severity of eating disorders and how the condition may occur.
“Eating disorders are a maladaptive coping mechanism,” Sharon Collison, a registered dietician nutritionist, says. “They are a way to ‘control’ something when life feels out of control.”
There are various causes of eating disorders, and these are often different for each individual. Oftentimes, however, anyone with a genetic tendency toward eating disorders may suffer from this condition due to triggers in their environment. Often, it is out of the control of the patient and is not a choice, as many are led to believe.
There is a popular belief that only white, privileged females suffer from this condition, but, in reality, anyone can experience such struggles. Mariam Basma, a registered dietitian in Student Health Services, says people across racial and socioeconomic lines can suffer from eating disorders.
“It is across the spectrum,” Basma says. “Some people think they know what people with an eating disorder look like but they forget that someone with an eating disorder could be at a normal weight.”
Symptoms vary depending on the type of disorder, whether anorexia or bulimia. Anorexia is a restrictive type of eating disorder, as individuals will eat very little. However, the condition is also often associated with binge eating followed by periods of purging the food they have eaten.
On the other hand, bulimia nervosa differs significantly from anorexia, with periods of binge eating instead of minimal eating. To compensate for the high calorie intake, individuals with bulimia are prone to self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse or excessive exercise.
For anyone suffering from either eating disorder, seeking help is one of the most essential steps on the path to recovery.
“The most important thing is to seek help,” Basma says. “Until the mind begins to be a little receptive to it, it’s very difficult for that person to make changes.”
One of the most crucial changes essential to an individual’s recovery is intuitive eating, which does not rely upon dieting or planned meals but rather simply satisfying one’s hunger.
“Our goal is to promote normal, healthy eating, as opposed to dieting,” Basma says. “A part of it is intuitive eating.”
Unfortunately, many individuals with body dysmorphia — an obsessive fixation on one’s perceived flaws — struggle with intuitive eating due to societal perceptions of beauty. In American culture, a skinny body is often portrayed as beautiful by the media and celebrities.
“[Millennials] have it a little bit of harder, as you have social media with fitness and nutrition experts constantly bombarding you with what they are eating, what they think,” Basma says.
Instead of focusing on encouraging a specific body shape for the rest of society to mold into, students should beware of stooping to such pressures and instead loving and treating their bodies with the respect they deserve.
“I think the most important thing is to teach self-acceptance,” Basma says. “We all come in different shapes and sizes.”