by Anna Cook
I always had an issue with body image growing up, continuously comparing myself to others. High school was where I would say my eating began to fluctuate, where I was intentionally starving myself to lose weight. The habit began to slow down going into junior and senior years of high school. But when entering college it triggered once again, though this time I didn’t realize it. With things like school, drama within friendships, being in an unhealthy relationship, COVID, family members passing, comparing myself to others and so on, I reached this peak of anxiety where food became undesirable and sickening. When people told me that I was “too skinny”, that I “don’t eat enough”, and that I “have an issue”, it was infuriating. See the thing is when I thought of “eating disorder” I thought of the way I was in high school, where I wasn’t eating at all. I didn’t realize that even though I was eating, I would only eat a few bites and stop, I would choose to not eat certain foods to be “healthier” and was constantly comparing myself to other people. I would look in the mirror and feel disgusted with myself but chalked it up to be something that everyone goes through. Little did I know that all my peers saw and thought the same thing but were just too scared to admit to me that I was practically just bone.
When I left college for summer and stepped on the scale at home, it read 98.0 lbs. At that very moment my heart dropped, and it all clicked. It was the sudden realization of what my body had become. I wanted to gain weight, I wanted to have a healthy body that I desired, and I wanted to get help. With friend and family support I began eating more than ever and going to the gym every night. My goal was to get to 110 lbs., a number I had never seen on the scale before. Coming back to college this year I weigh 112 lbs., feeling more confident and healthier than I ever had felt. I can’t deny that I don’t still have those moments of wanting to backtrack, but I continue to go to the gym, eat healthily, and push through the negative thoughts. I am slowly learning that my body is perfect the way it is.
1 in 20 people suffer from an eating disorder in their life (2). An eating disorder is a mental illness where one follows specific eating habits that have a negative effect on the individual (4). Among all the different types of mental illnesses, eating disorders hold the highest mortality rate over any other (5). The people affected are mainly teens and young adults, and among those people affected, college students represent a high percentage of that population (1, 6). Both genders experience and have the chance of developing the disorder, but men are less likely to have an eating disorder in comparison to women (1). Many women in college settings claim that they used dieting to control their weight, where many other women claim they participated in unhealthy methods of weight loss (5). Someone with an eating disorder may be involved in excess amounts of exercise, irregular eating patterns, forced vomiting, binge eating, an overall false viewpoint on their body image, and many other behavioral, psychological, and personal factors (3). College students are seen to be more susceptible to having an eating disorder due to things like comparing oneself to others, trying to “fit in”, the concept of “Freshman 15”, stress overload with schoolwork, being in a new environment, and much more (5). This issue continues to be a problem on college campuses everywhere, which is something that could be either prevented or helped.
Organizations such as ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) focus on helping those who are suffering from an eating disorder by providing free health services to those who need it, through donations from the community (7). These health services include things like support groups, treatment directory, recovery mentorship programs, and a helpline (7). The organization has volunteers who have personally experienced having an eating disorder and who have gone through recovery, that way they can understand and connect to those who are reaching out for help (7). Webinars are also given, where people can receive professional advice and insight on eating disorders (7). If you know someone with an eating disorder, there are some things you can do personally to try to help. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with them and allow the person to be open and honest with you, with zero criticism (5). Although you don’t perceive their body the way they do, avoid discussing how you see them and avoid being forceful with your words (5).
If you personally witness and know someone who might be struggling with an
eating disorder, you can use these services to help connect them to professional help. The first step you can take is calling an eating disorder hotline; one is provided by ANAD for free (1 (888)-357-7767). If you feel that you may have an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from a professional, or even talk to someone with whom you feel comfortable. Eating disorders affect so many people on college campuses, just know you are not alone.
Eating Disorder Statistics. ANRED
Eating Disorder Facts. NAMI.
Eating Disorder Behavioral Symptoms. ALSANA.
Eating Disorder Overview. Mayo Clinic.
Eating Disorders College Students. Meda.
Percent Eating Disorder of College Students. NCBI.
Eating Disorder Support Group. ANAD.