By Ryann Kirk
We’ve all heard of the freshman 15, but why is it something we all accept? Being so stressed out that we either rapidly gain or lose weight excessively in the span of a year is not healthy, no matter what social stigma surrounds it.
College students deal with a lot; a new environment, new faces, a more challenging workload and newfound independence. Eating properly and taking care of ourselves typically isn’t at the forefront of our minds, which is precisely what makes college students so susceptible to disordered eating.
What is disordered eating?
You might hear the words eating disorders and disordered eating and think to yourself that they’re one and the same, but this couldn’t be more wrong. While they are both serious — eating issues can lead to an eating disorder — eating disorders are serious mental illnesses.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) describes eating disorders as “complex psychiatric illnesses with biological components and they can be life-threatening.” While disordered eating is unhealthy behaviors that promote unhealthy eating habits and weight loss.
Disordered eating is a much more common experience for people throughout life and is typically caused by people trying to diet but becoming frustrated at the lack of quick results. According to NEDA, 35% of dieters progress to unhealthy dieting, and of those, 20-25% develop partial or full syndrome eating disorders.
This spectrum can also lead to rapid weight gain, worsening the problem— being calorie-conscious turns to obsessively counting calories. Portion control turns to intermittent fasting, which turns to fasting for days at a time.
How College and Social Media Breeds Disordered Eating
Considering how bad relationships with food have become normalized through social media and fad diets, people will start to take even greater steps to achieve their goal, which could ultimately lead to a full-blown disorder. This phenomenon happens easier than some would think. It is what kick-started my eating disorder.
Social media has glorified waiflike bodies so much, with thinspo and fitspo as popular topics, that I couldn’t help but fall into the eating habits they promoted. Hearing people verbally confirm that my weight loss was visible became addicting to hear, so I did anything to continue losing weight. I became obsessed with seeing my collarbones, ribs or any kind of bone.
Going to college and living on campus only furthered my body and eating issues to the point where they fully developed into an eating disorder. It was so easy to neglect my body in favor of doing well on campus, and I felt no one would take a second look at it. A combination of social anxiety, depression and body dysmorphia caused by being in a new place all by myself made my eating disorder even worse.
Social media also severely affects the relationship between people and their body image. The rising popularity of social media has been correlated to increased eating disorders. Many studies have been done that link social media to uneasiness in eating or body negativity.
“A recent (NEDA) study of women between the ages of 18 and 25 showed a link between Instagram and increased self-objectification and body image concerns, especially among those who frequently viewed fitspiration images,” according to Magnolia Creek, a center for treating eating disorders.
Instagram has become a hub for influencing others and dictating what is or isn’t the perfect appearance. With this mindset, it is almost guaranteed to have some sort of effect on the young minds browsing through social media.
“It promotes us attempting to compare ourselves to everyone else we see on social media and it also tends then for us to question our own value and question why don’t I look like that,” says Julie Meisels, a psychologist at CSUF’s Counseling and Psychological Services, also known as CAPS. “We don’t know if they’re happy but all of a sudden we’re comparing and feel worse about ourselves.”
Resources at CSUF
CSUF provides many services at little to no cost to help students’ mental health. These services have helped countless students, including myself, gain a more positive outlook on themselves.
TitanWell is a good first stop for someone who realizes their eating isn’t as healthy as it should be. It offers countless services and gives various pamphlets that promote better eating habits. Most importantly, TitanWell hosts a variety of nutrition-based presentations that focus on educating students on food and encourage them to “ditch the diet bandwagon.” Two extremely beneficial presentations for students struggling with disordered eating are “Mission: Nutrition!” and “The Price Tastes Right!”
As a collaborative effort between CAPS, Health Services and TitanWell, the Eating Concerns Task Force is another resource that students can contact. It aims to help students with disordered eating concerns. Their mission is to “support students’ physical and psychological well-being with resources and referrals,” and, “provide education and outreach to CSUF students, faculty, and staff.” They provide screenings, individual or group counseling, nutrition consultation, case management, referrals and education and outreach programs.
“If somebody reaches out to me and says I’m interested in this and would like some guidance around it, even if I can’t provide services myself for every single person who reaches out to me, I will make sure you get a callback. I will make sure that I connect you with somebody who can,” says Megan Bonynge, a crisis counselor at CAPS and a part of the Eating Concerns Task Force.
Along with that, the task force has a Zoom workshop called “The Undiet Effect,” which focuses on accepting your body. This is a drop-in group that acts as an open space to discuss eating concerns, body image, exercise and helps students realize that they’re not alone.
“A lot of people have these same concerns and they often don’t voice it. They don’t feel like they have that safe place to voice it, and that’s why we have this ‘Undiet Effect’ working group. They can just pop in and hear other people’s stories,” says Suzanne Knutzen, a provider in the Student Health Center, which provides medical evaluations to assess health status.
The most challenging part about getting help is admitting to yourself that you need help, especially when it’s related to body image. Because it’s so personal, reaching out can seem incredibly daunting, but it makes recovery easier once you do.
“How do you separate yourself from your body? You don’t, it’s impossible,” Bonynge says. “It’s a very very personal issue and I think that’s what makes it so hard to reach out in the first place.”
However, if you’re the one noticing that a friend is struggling, let them know you’re there for them. Be sensitive about it, don’t ask them straight up if they have eating concerns, but gently ask them if they’re OK or if they’re going through anything. The most helpful thing you can do is let them know you’re there for them and will support them.
“Finding someone that can be your accountability buddy whether it be food check-ins with them or eating with them because every little step toward healthy eating and a positive body image is important,” said Phoebe, a CSUF student.
Body image issues can be scary to deal with and even scarier to ask for help with. If you notice that you or someone you care about isn’t their usual self or seems more insecure, reach out. CSUF offers so many resources that you help pay for, so take advantage of that. Don’t let yourself just grin and bear it and do what you have to in order to get help.