The Collegian
Saturday, July 04, 2020

Eating Disorder Week met with mixed reactions

Some university awareness groups have given little directed attention to National Eating Disorders Awareness Week from Feb. 21-27, yet eating disorders remain a hot topic on campus.

"Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and cognitive preoccupations with eating - not doing anything but thinking about food - all exist on this campus," said Elizabeth Stott, a staff psychologist and clinical assistant professor working at Counseling and Psychological Services on campus.

She also said that the prevalence of these disorders on campus was equivalent to other universities across the country that are similar to the University of Richmond in size and academic workload.

Eating disorders, including those associated with over-eating, are mental disorders, often instigated by periods of extreme emotional stress or change. One study by the Multi-service Eating Disorders Association determined that 15 percent of women between the ages of 17 and 24 have eating disorders. Statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association indicated that approximately 10 percent of all eating disorder cases involved men.

These statistics are based on known cases, but most eating disorders go unreported. The University of Richmond dietician, Katie Thompson said she saw a "large handful" of students each week that exhibited symptoms of these illnesses.

"I see clients who have voluntarily come to see me about an eating disorder, but sufferers don't usually volunteer to see me," Thompson said. "Most of them are referred through the [Student] Health Center or dean's office.

"A lot of disorders don't go away and they're all very hard to bounce back from [without encouragement]."

The problem is that eating disorders can gain bad reputations that have nothing to do with the negative food habits associated with them, said Fiona Carmody, president of Images, a support group for those with such disorders. Images chose not to conduct awareness events this week in an attempt to move away from its reputation as an eating disorder group.

"Our new mission statement is 'redefining perfect,'" Carmody wrote in an e-mail. "We are placing a bigger emphasis on stress management, and the ability to value the things that deserve to be valued instead of giving into 'images' of what is actually being the 'best.'"

Images will incorporate eating disorder discussions into their events during Love Your Body Week, which will run from March 21-26.

Active Minds, the mental illness awareness group on campus, also paid little attention to National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, mostly because discussions about eating disorders had already taken place during Mental Illness Awareness Week in October. Of Active Minds' more involved members, up to 25 percent have or have had an eating disorder, said Crystal Thornhill, vice president last semester and a CAPS intern this semester.

All other discussion seemed to take place in an online debate earlier this month after an Opinion column in The Collegian about thin women on campus struck a nerve with students. Responses were submitted during the course of a week and tended to illustrate a need for more vocalization about eating disorders on campus.

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"The more seriously ill a person with an eating disorder is, the less willing they are to hear about them," Stott said. "[The college's social culture] encourages people to make their bodies into something they're not."

The pressures that students face academically and socially can also influence their relationship with food.

"A lot of the student body is very motivated," said Jessie Lustig, vice president of Active Minds. "We have a lot of over achievers here and they encourage perfectionism, which spills over into body image. They want control over everything in their lives."

Control is often inseparable from eating disorder discussions.

Because modern life is often confusing and difficult, Stott said, people with eating disorders focused on their bodies as something they could control rather than focusing on the larger issues affecting them.

Lustig said she agreed about the complexity of the issue: "There is a lot more going on psychologically, emotionally and socially. It's really easy to stereotype a person as, 'She wants attention.'"

The most pressing problem is body image in general on this campus, many said.

"There is an ideal at this school that you have to be a certain body type," Thornhill said. "It's more important in some social groups than others and it does make it hard for women on campus."

Lustig emphasized that eating disorders were a pervasive issue.

"Everyone either knows someone, or knows someone that knows someone that has disordered eating," Lustig said. "It affects everybody."

Contact staff writer Jordan Trippeer at jordan.trippeer@richmond.edu

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