DU combats negative body image

Body image can be a big stressor for college students.

Body image can be a big stressor for college students.

With the change of lifestyle and the dreaded “freshman 15,” dieting and exercise is common on college campuses.  But with the increase in those who foster a poor body image, the fad of being thin is heightened to a new extreme.

Although it starts mildly, a few extra minutes at the gym or counting calories, this can ultimately lead to disordered eating which in turn results in an incredibly hazardous illness: an eating disorder.

As this dangerous trend grows, the University of Denver has put forth an effort to keep its students informed and spread awareness regarding eating disorders.

What is an Eating Disorder?
According to Medical News, the medical definition of an eating disorder is a mental illness that cause serious disturbance in a person’s everyday diet while disordered eating refers to troublesome eating behaviors such as restrictive dieting which is less severe and does not meet the criteria for of an eating disorder.

The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by compulsive overeating. Anorexia nervosa is distinguished by an intense fear of being obese and a significant weight loss in a short period of time. Symptoms of bulimia are binging on calorie rich foods and then compensating by purging, or vomiting.

Other symptoms of anorexia and bulimia include over-exercising, ingesting diet pills or laxatives, a distorted sense of self-perception, and an obsession with becoming thin.

Often, eating disorders will start in early childhood, but physical symptoms may not be prevalent until triggered by stress, such as the challenge of balancing the academic and social rigor as a college student.

One Student’s Struggle
One student comes forward to share her battle with an eating disorder. Her name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Maggie Jones was a sophomore in high school when her eating disorder was first recognized, but it was rooted much before then.

“Body image was always prevalent from as young as I can remember. With so many women in a household (Jones grew up in a family of four women), it would be unheard of for body image to not be a huge deal,” she recalls.

When Jones was in high school, the physical symptoms became more severe, and she became obsessive over dieting, exercising, and counting calories. Her body image became increasingly negative.

“Since my eating disorder has been prevalent in my life, it’s been impossible for me to see how others view me. When people view me as thin, I view myself as fat. When they view me as beautiful, I view myself as ugly.”

Jones went through treatment programs in high school, but the anxiety of moving away from home and starting college at DU did not improve her condition.

“College has brought many challenges that my eating disorder has been up against. Stress is a big factor that plays into my eating disorder. The more stressed I am, the worse my eating disorder is. Needless to say, I hate finals week for more reasons than just the exams.”

Jones is not alone.  In a survey done by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) of 1,000 college students, both male and female, it was found that nearly 20 percent of participants said they either have or have previously suffered from an eating disorder.

 On Campus Resources

The Health Care Center offers warning signs to detect an eating disorder.

The Health Care Center offers warning signs to detect an eating disorder.

For DU students such as Jones, there are on-campus resources that provide help. Jacaranda Palmateer, Director of Counseling Services at the Health Care Center describes some of the assistance available on campus.

“We treat people in recovery or are on track to recovery. We have a staff that specializes in eating disorder treatment and we work with the student and provide therapy. We also run a group related to eating disorders.”

She adds eating disorder treatment can be very complicated, as many students suffering from an eating disorder do not want treatment.

“People with eating disorders feel very ambivalent about changing, it’s a difficult population to reach.”

Although it is a difficult subject, there have been student efforts to reach out and promote a healthy body image, such as Tri Delta’s Fat Talk Free Week. Fat Talk Free Week is a week long campaign centered around building confidence for who you are on the inside, rather than focusing on how others view you.

Richelle Moulin, a senior at DU, has been running this crusade for the past three years and warns of the dangers of “fat talk.”

“Fat talk can be anything from calling yourself or others fat, making negative comments on others’ appearance, saying that you need to go workout after eating a cookie, or even complimenting someone on losing weight. Having all of that as a normal part of our dialogue teaches young women to believe that their value is in their appearance and that if they don’t fit a certain ideal look then there is something wrong with them. Through fat talk free week we want to teach women why talking like this is so harmful and how they can talk about themselves and one another in a much more positive healthy way.”

With eating disorders intruding on college campuses, a positive self perception is essential. If you know someone struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out.  Contact the Health Care Center for more information.



2 Responses to DU combats negative body image

  • Li Zeng
    Li Zeng says:

    I like this topic first of all. It pays attention to college students’ psychological concern, such as over stress, one of the major causes of eating disorder. You did a great job on demonstrating this issue comprehensively by using multiple resources on different sides, including patient’s experience, doctor’s suggestion, and relevant research as well. You also clearly defined and explained important term, which is helpful for readers to understand. The photos very well match the article.

  • Nicole Eldridge
    Nicole Eldridge says:

    This topic is definitely great and relevant for a site like daily college life. Personally, I’ve had to deal with friends with eating disorders in college and sometimes I felt like it was hard to reach out to them, but you bring up a lot of truth. I also love that you brought up Fat Talk Free Week because I’m in Tridelt and love the concept.

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