Proud2Bme | Colleges Need More Eating Disorder Resources

Colleges Need More Eating Disorder Resources

By Annie Stewart--There is nothing like the college experience. College can be a time when dreams are realized and lifelong friendships are formed. Yet these years aren’t entirely wonderful.

College is also a time of immense stress and anxiety. These stressors, among others, have led to an epidemic of eating disorders on college campuses. According to a new report released by the National Eating Disorders Association, the rate of eating disorders among college students has risen to 10 to 20 percent of women and four to 10 percent of men. The organization surveyed colleges across the United States and found that greater funding and resources are needed on college campuses to educate, screen and treat students struggling with eating disorders. My hope is that this survey will be an enlightening source for students, professors, and parents. May it call us to action and may every individual be a beacon of light and voice of change on college campuses. I care about this issue because I know from my own experience what a critical difference these resources can make.

In May of 2007, I was discharged from Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona. This is the place where my journey of recovery began, where healing with family members took place and where I truly began to understand who I am, free of the eating disorder that had controlled the past four years of my life. After returning from residential treatment, I had a long journey ahead of me. I had not lived life normally for so long; I had no idea what "normal" even meant. I graduated from high school in 2009 and stayed in my hometown for two more years, attending the community college close to my town. I am grateful for this decision, as I do not believe I was ready to leave home yet. I knew going away to college would be a huge transition and I did not think I was ready for such a drastic change. Even though I do not regret my decision to stay at home for the first two years of college, I do think eating disorder services at colleges and universities must be addressed and improved. There can be services implemented that would make the transition to college easier for those in recovery from eating disorders.

I transferred to George Fox University in August of 2011. By this time, I had been free of my eating disorder for several years and was truly living in the freedom that is found in a recovered life. Even still, I had moments of struggle and insecurity during my first year at George Fox. Upon entering college, I had a therapist that I met with on a regular basis. I have found that my times of struggle in recovery are times when I am undergoing a major change or times of stress. College is full of stressors, so it important to have a great therapist who understands your background and your triggers (as everyone’s triggers are different). In my experience, my three biggest triggers were the myth about the "Freshman 15," my perfectionism and the holiday season.

If I could offer one piece of advice to a college freshman who is in recovery, it would be this: DO NOT listen to what anyone else tells you about weight, food and diets. The best thing you can do is listen to your own body rather than the negative voices around you. Feed yourself well, exercise in moderation if you feel so inclined (exercising in college has been therapeutic as it is a great stress reliever for me) and most of all, know when to give your body a break. I also found it important to surround myself with students who value their body for what it is and who do not participate in unhealthy behaviors and "body-bashing." It is imperative to surround yourself with people who share your interests and who only build you up rather than tear you down.

Holidays were always the worst time of the year for me, with the constant focus on weight and diets. Today, however, I choose not to dwell on the negative aspects of the season but choose to focus on the positives. There were times during the school year where I did not need to see my therapist so much but there were other times I needed to see her on a weekly basis. The holiday was definitely one of those times I needed to see my therapist more regularly. For those in college who are in recovery, make sure you connect with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders.

I also think it is imperative to have nutritionists who specialize in eating disorders on college campuses. By the time I started at George Fox, I felt like I had a healthy relationship with food and my body. I felt like my nutritionist at home helped me tremendously. I would have been so lost without her. She helped me understand what it means to eat intuitively, what positive body image looks like and how to deal with stress in a healthy way. Hence, by the time I started at George Fox, I had the skills necessary to combat any of my triggers. However, I know there are many college students who are just beginning their recovery and need many more resources, such as having trained nutritionists on campus.

Through recovery, I have learned that there is a direct correlation between perfectionism and eating disorders, which has definitely been true in my experience. I am someone who is often harder on myself than necessary and I am prone to thinking my self-worth comes from what I do rather than who I am. One of my greatest challenges in college is figuring out how to work hard, giving 100% without falling prey to perfectionist tendencies.

My solution to my struggles was to build a network of people around me who could support and encourage me in my recovery. For example, my roommate and closest college friend would hold me accountable when I was tempted to revert back to my perfectionist mindset. Upon starting at George Fox, we had an instant connection. We got to know each other very well in a short time frame. She would not let me do homework on Fridays but would insist on going to the local coffee shop together or making dinner and watching a movie together in our apartment. I know not everyone is fortunate enough to find a kindred spirit like I did when starting college. That is why eating disorder support groups are so desperately needed on college campuses for those who do not have friends whom they feel comfortable sharing their stories of recovery with.

An eating disorder is a coping mechanism that people use to try to deal with the pains and stressors of life. It's a coping mechanism that does not work. Recovery is about finding new ways to cope with stress. College can be incredibly stressful time, but stress can also teach you about yourself and in the process, make you a stronger person. My eating disorder was how I dealt with the stress and pain I had experienced. Now when I am stressed, I call a friend, write a poem, paint a picture or go outside and take a picture of a pretty tree or flower. I have found healthy ways to deal with negative emotions rather than using food to numb difficult emotions. Everyone has a different way of dealing with stress. They key is to find positive ways to deal with stress rather than negative ones.

In the grips of anorexia, I believed I could never go to college because I felt I could never be free of E.D. and live a normal life. I have proved E.D. wrong and I want to inspire others in the belief that you can live a life free of an eating disorder and you can live the life you have imagined, but perhaps feel like you can never attain. Even as I type this, I am spending a semester abroad in Thailand, having the experience of a lifetime. I will be graduating in spring of 2014, majoring in sociology and minoring in women’s studies. I am passionate about bringing about change in my culture and society. More than anything, I want to help to empower young women to reach their full potential. College has been a way that I have learned my strengths and talents. Through classes I have taken, people I have met and experiences I have had, I have learned who I am and what I want to pursue professionally and personally. Most of all, I have learned how I want to tangibly make a difference in the world. I have learned that everything happens for a reason and that I have been helped so I can help others. I would not have been able to do any of these things in college if I was still held captive in the chains of an eating disorder. Individuals have dreams to be realized; relationships to be had, and memories to make and one cannot pursue their dreams, enjoy relationships and make memories if they do not live in complete freedom from E.D.

An eating disorder is so often an illness suffered in silence and isolation but it does not have to be. We are meant to do life in the context of solidarity, to share in one another’s joy and suffering. This is one of the reasons why having more resources for those fighting eating disorders is so important. I am so grateful for the Eating Disorders On The College Campus Survey as it paints a picture of how eating disorders can manifest in college. The survey also paints a picture of recovery during college and what the tangible needs are for college students fighting for recovery. My hope is that this information will be used to improve the dire needs of students who are fighting a life and death battle with eating disorders. There is hope, there is healing and there is life free of eating disorders. I know this because I have experienced it. I am survivor. And because of this, I will do everything I can to educate others about that which once enslaved me. I will speak of hope, of healing and most of all, the freedom that a recovered life brings.

*The National Eating Disorders Association does not recommend or endorse any specific facilities, service providers, support groups or research studies.

Related:

Breaking the Rules: Why I'm Not Obsessing Over the Freshman 15

Negative Body Talk is Alive and Well Among College Women

Holiday Survival Tips from Project HEAL

 

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