LIVING WITH AN ED IN COLLEGE
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has dubbed Feb. 26 through Mar. 4 National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (#NEDAwareness).
According to their website, the NEDA-spearheaded viral campaign aims to “shine the spotlight on eating disorders (ED) and put life-saving resources into the hands of those in need.” This year’s theme is “It’s Time to Talk about It.”
Eating disorders are complex, palpable, and devastating. While it is difficult to condense the far-reaching roots of EDs in few words, many studies have been conducted to create public awareness on the issue. According to research accumulated by NEDA, “Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health, as well as productivity and relationships.”
The disorder is also often characterized by feelings of inadequacy, depression, and obsessive control over and distortion of self-body image. “Mine was closely related to depression,” a CU Denver student said on their struggle with an ED. “I’ve hidden it from my family and most people for years, so they still don’t know about it. I tracked every single calorie I ate. I worked out until I couldn’t move anymore. My depression made my eating disorder worse and my eating disorder made my depression worse, so I was stuck in a cycle that I couldn’t get out of.”
Actions taken to distort the body—often through forced or induced vomiting, extreme dieting, and excessive exercise—can lead to significant long-term health issues. Research cited in the US National Library of Medicine suggests that over the past century, increasing attention to slimming body image has led to societal concern with losing weight and controlling body size through eating habits. “Magazine articles, television shows, and advertisements have also created a social context that may contribute to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating,” the study stated.
While EDs affect people of all ages, college students are especially susceptible to the symptoms and effects of EDs. The Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association cites that “20 percent of college students have said they have or have previously had an eating disorder.” With the current media climate, it is often stigmatized for college students to not recognize that they need help.
“Having an ED gave me a sense of control,” another anonymous CU Denver student said. “I felt a sense of pride when the scale was low. I feel like I don’t have a healthy way to address it.”
Stigmatization is one of the major reasons college students don’t seek help. Recent studies from Oxford and Glasgow research labs concluded that, “Men with anorexia are underdiagnosed, undertreated and under-researched.” The research further demonstrated that clouded diagnostic criteria has left anorexia as the mental illness with the highest mortality rate. Without grounded public understanding, students who feel inadequate and uncertain about their issues may feel pushed to adopt the burden of their struggle without seeking help.
“Every day is a battle,” one student said. “I don’t think recovery happens on a macro scale. You deal with it in small ways, changing your behavior bit by bit, even when it’s really hard.”
Both Metro State and CU Denver are active participants in #NEDAwareness. The universities’ counseling centers have provided panels and open-forum conversations to inform the Auraria Campus community of the intricacies of EDs and what students can do to actively create inclusive environments.
There are also plentiful resources throughout the Denver Metro community for diagnosis and assistance for those struggling with EDs. While the disorder remains prominent, campaigns like #NEDAwareness aim to de-stigmatize and create community-centered support groups for those on the long road to recovery from eating disorders.