Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

Feb. 26 through March 3 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Despite the fact that many individuals — particularly young women — have suffered from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, this topic is rarely discussed in the public sphere. As a person who has experienced an eating disorder and is now in recovery, I believe that more awareness of this topic would benefit the entire community. Let’s talk a bit about the problem, as well as some ways to find community and support. 

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 9% of people in the United States have experienced or are currently experiencing an eating disorder. For many of us, it began when we were teenagers. Many factors can spiral into an eating disorder — and these factors are different for everyone —  and there are so many that I can’t list them all here. Sometimes, it’s the negative body image developed from constant exposure to perfect bodies in the media. Other times, it’s an attempt to exert control over some aspect of our lives during difficult or traumatic situations. Each person’s story and experience is different. It’s important to note that eating disorders are not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon; symptoms and causes vary between affected individuals. Some people experience avoidant or restrictive eating, while others suffer from anorexia or bulimia. Each of these can be very scary for both those experiencing them and their loved ones. Fortunately, there are people who can help. Eating disorder specialists are trained to work specifically with people suffering from these issues and, simultaneously, can help connect the patient with a community of others who are also in recovery. It can feel difficult to reach out to a specialist for help — or to recommend a loved one to do so — but these doctors can be truly life-saving. 

Fortunately, resources are available to those of us on West Chester’s campus. The Renfrew Center is an eating disorder specialist group based in Philadelphia where people experiencing or recovering from these issues can find support and community. In honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, they are hosting several virtual workshops, which you can access through their website, renfrewcenter.com. Among these workshops are a support group for college students – a workshop on communication for those seeking to reach out openly about their eating disorder and virtual yoga sessions to help individuals feel more connected to their bodies. The Renfrew Center is also able to connect you with other resources, such as support groups for people of color, people in the LGBT community, and students, as well as other mental health resources. You can find these on the following site: renfrewcenter.com If any of these resources sound intriguing, useful, or otherwise relevant to you, I encourage you to check them out. (For those reading the print edition of this article, the links are available in the online version on The Quad’s website.)

Whether you have been in recovery for years or are just beginning your journey, the Renfrew Center has some advice for staying on track while in college, according to Lindsey Brodowski, a representative from the Renfrew Center. You can keep working with your treatment team, if you have one, or find other specialists nearby. Creating a schedule and planning your meals is important to ensuring you eat enough and nourish yourself throughout the day. You can also access campus resources, such as counseling services, health services and campus ministries for those who are spiritual or religious. 

If you are currently experiencing an eating disorder, do not be afraid to reach out for help. If necessary, you can even take medical leave from school to do so. Prioritizing yourself is so important when you are dealing with something like this. Trust me, I wish I had done so while I was going through the worst parts of it and the initial steps towards recovery. 

Oftentimes, those who have experienced eating disorders feel alone because we do not realize how many other people have also been there. I have no idea how many other WCU students have gone through similar experiences to mine, but I know that I am not the only one. I am also sure that I’m not the only person who has been too ashamed to admit this is something I’ve gone through. 

Finding a community is very valuable; it allows us to surround ourselves with other people who understand us. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to those of us who suffer from eating disorders and those recovering from them. In a society that prides itself on removing stigmas from marginalized people, why should we continue to experience stigmatization? Whether you or a loved one have been affected by an eating disorder, or whether you would like to become an ally to those who have, I encourage you to work towards removing the stigma around all forms of eating disorders. Our society often celebrates those who are in recovery from other diseases, as well as addiction and other issues. I hope that someday there will be a time when people with eating disorders no longer feel ashamed to ask for help, and people recovering from them no longer feel ashamed of that part of ourselves. 

I hope this article contributes, even if only in a very small way, to opening up a space to talk about these topics. For those who are not comfortable talking openly about it with outsiders — and I have felt that way for years — I encourage you to reach out to resources, such as those available through the Renfrew Center. No one is defined by their health issues — including eating disorders — and there is help and community available for us. Everyone, no matter what you are experiencing, deserves care and support. 

 


Emily Karreman is a third-year student with majors in Russian and History and a minor in Spanish. EK1019612@wcupa.edu

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