This month we recognize Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 26th – March 4th). Eating disorders are serious, complex conditions that impact health, emotional wellbeing, and relationships. They can even result in death. Nationally, eating disorders impact approximately 20 million women and 10 million men. Even more people struggle with disordered eating patterns and body image concerns. Maladaptive beliefs about body weight and shape begin at a young age (e.g., 42% of elementary school girls want to be thinner) and can develop into problematic behaviors and beliefs during adolescence and young adulthood. Furthermore, eating disorders are highly comorbid with depression, anxiety, suicide, substance abuse, and relationship violence.
In the college setting, eating disorders or body image concerns can interfere with students’ academic functioning, extracurricular activities, and interpersonal and familial relationships. As faculty and staff there are some signs you can look for in students who are struggling with an eating disorder or body image:
- Significant increase or decrease in weight
- Dressing in layers or wearing bulky clothing to hide weight loss
- Preoccupation with food or weight loss
- Regimented or unusual eating habits or secretive eating
- Food restriction, bingeing, or purging behaviors
- Excessive exercise
- Comments indicating distorted body image
If you are concerned about a student, consider talking with them.
There has been a recent emergence of movements that are aimed at combatting societal pressures to look a certain way or be a certain weight. One organization, The Body Positive, has started to work towards ending the harmful consequences of negative body image. In the Body Positive model, health is greater than just body image or weight – it is the interconnection of psychological, emotional, and physical aspects of a person’s life. Their model is based on five core competencies:
- Reclaim Health: uncover messages that influence your relationship with you body, food, and exercise to develop a weight-neutral, health-centered approach to self-care
- Practice Intuitive Self-Care: learn to listen to and follow your body’s wisdom to eat, exercise, and live intuitively
- Cultivate Self-Love: develop a practice of self-love to employ compassion, forgiveness, and humor as you leave behind self-criticism
- Declare your own authentic beauty: experience beauty as a creative, dynamic process and inhabit your unique body with joy and confidence
- Build community: connect with others through a shared positive approach to beauty, health, and identity, and become a role model of love and respect for your own body
Achieving proficiency in these competencies allows individuals to focus on their purpose, values, and life goals.
Last year SPU’s counseling center hosted a body positive week that was very successful. Watch for more information about this year’s event!