As a clinician, adjunct professor, and a natural dreamer, I tend to have [an unrealistic] hope:
If individuals knew about current treatments for eating disorders, they would flock to these resources to get help.
My bubble was burst the other day when I asked multiple college students,
“If college students had more knowledge and access to treatment for eating disorders, do you think they would get help?”
The responses were a resounding “no.” So, of course I wondered, “Why not?”
Zoe Ross-Nash, a junior at Elon University, helped me understand that eating disorders are not taboo on her campus, nor on other college campuses.
Instead of recognizing eating disorders as dangerous (they have the highest mortality rate of all mental disorders!), eating disorders are often passively perpetuated and deeply embedded in college culture. Zoe shared,
“It feels like 65 percent of girls on campus have an eating disorder, even if it seems less severe and more along the lines of ‘orthorexia’ and an obsession with being ‘healthy.’ This eating disorder mentality is perpetuated by a pressure to be thin, be in shape, be high achieving, and to look perfect. Elon even has a stigma of having a ton of beautiful girls, and these girls have to work for the approval of the 35 percent of campus that’s male.”
Pressures to fit in to the image of a specific group or athletic team can create a hyper-sensitive environment regarding weight, appearance and eating habits. Coaches sometimes ask athletes to drop weight quickly; sororities are rumored to set weight standards, to create schedules for pledge-class workouts, and to have mandatory salad-eating meetings.
As brought to light recently by Alex Purdy’s viral video (viewing discretion advised) and the #SororityRevamp push in social media, she has heard of “Bigs” putting diet pills in their “Littles'” gift baskets.
Along with other Elon University students, Zoe would like to bring awareness to the fact that these seemingly small and socially acceptable pressures can perpetuate unhealthy disordered eating habits. College students do need to know about the availability of treatment, but first, Zoe suggests that students need catalysts to recognize the need for help.
She believes that students need education about the dangers of eating disorders and tools for identifying and communicating concerns for someone with an eating disorder. Campus-wide efforts and cultural shifts to increase body acceptance, as well as forums to start conversations about body shaming and eating disorders could also be effective means of prevention.
Collegiate controversies drive students to “Shred The Shame”
Zoe, along with her classmates, developed a social media campaign called #shredtheshame that has received thousands of views nationwide. By shredding the shame (literally…check it out!) through short videos, her group is raising awareness about the threats of eating disorders, decreasing stigmatization by starting conversations, and promoting self-acceptance.
Slowly, and with thanks to passionate individuals like Zoe Ross-Nash and Alex Purdy, college cultures will shift with similar movements like the Body Project, NEDA’s Proud2BeMe program, the Embody Love Movement, and so on. Fraternity and Sorority Life is also making waves with a new initiative named “A Call to Values Congruence,” a values-based recruitment process.
Zoe urges you to consider this,
“Whether you are in college or not, please consider the impact you can have on the culture around you — how will you use your power? With small cultural shifts, only then can we prevent eating disorders and also awaken the need for recovery.”
Ellie Herman, MA, LPC, NCC is an alumni coordinator for Eating Recovery Center.