Last week SOU’s Women’s Resource Center hosted a series of events that included cozying up in the WRC to watch episodes of Degrassi, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sailor Moon; a yoga class focusing on body positivity and mindfulness; and an Eating and Body Support meeting. It was the 28th annual National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. While the week is over, the issue is far from resolved.
The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) launches NEDAwareness Week during the last seven days of February, encouraging communities across the nation to improve public understanding of eating disorders.
Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening physical and mental illnesses, and four out of ten Americans have either suffered or known someone who has suffered from one. A large part of NEDAwareness week is staying conscious of the prevalence and seriousness of eating disorders even after the week is over.
“Eating disorders do not discriminate and you can’t tell by looking at a person by size if they have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are not about the weight. The weight focus is like a placeholder for the other issues that are hard to face,” said Debbie Devine, the SOU counselor who answered questions at the Eating and Body Support meeting last week.
A week dedicated to eating disorder awareness is important, Devine said, because many people do not realize that they need professional intervention or support.
“An aspect of disordered eating, in my experience and research of the topic, is secrecy and stigma,” said Autumn Wilson, a psychology major with a double minor in sociology and gender, sexuality and women’s studies.
Wilson coordinated SOU’s NEDAwareness Week in hopes of bringing awareness to these stigmas, “I think in general our society still has this thin ideal. So not only are we idolizing thin body shapes, but we’re stigmatizing and creating this fear around fat bodies. That stigma is really horrible and damaging.”
Devine confirms, “Eating disorders are the most deadly of all mental health diagnosis and are some of the least funded topics in medical research.” According to research cited by NEDA, eating disorders are often accompanied by depression and substance abuse, making it the mental illness with the highest mortality rates.
An objective of NEDAwareness Week is intervention through education about eating disorder causes and treatments in order to increase the likelihood of full recovery.
“I think full recovery is possible. It’s really difficult to do alone. Sometimes on college campuses an individual may not feel like they have the resources,” said Autumn Wilson, whose goal for SOU’s NEDAwareness Week was to make students more aware of on campus resources.
Current on campus support includes: the Eating and Body Support group in the WRC Tuesday evenings at 5:30, therapists at the Student Health and Wellness Center, a Fat Politics class offered for course credit, and in May there will be a WRC-hosted “Love Your Body” week that will involve panel discussions and scale smashing.
For some quick support right here and now, Debbie Devine has offered 5 tips for students struggling with eating disorders:
1. Reach out for support: “Eating disorders don’t live as well in the light and the dark inner critical voice of an eating disorder is not something to deal with alone. Tell safe people who can support you.”
2. Pace yourself: “People struggling with eating disorders have a tendency to be more perfectionistic. Having too much on our plates and trying to do it perfectly can be a recipe for trouble.”
3. Try not to live with someone who has an eating disorder: “This can be very triggering for some.”
4. Stop weighing yourself: “Scales measure our relationship to gravity not your self-esteem, success as a person.”
5. Stop Fat Talk: “ Size is the last form of socially acceptable discrimination and I would like to see that be a thing of the past!”