Thirty-five percent of students who diet progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20–25 percent progress to partial- or full-syndrome eating disorders. This was the impetus for a group conversation last week titled “Learn to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder.”
Alexis Wilbert, a licensed clinical psychologist at the counseling center with expertise in disordered eating, led the talk. She estimates that about 91 percent of people with whom she meets, regardless of their reason for stopping in, struggled with negative body issues in the past.
This should come as no surprise to most college students. Phrases like the “Freshman 15” and societal expectations enforced by the prevalence of social media preoccupy people with outward appearance. It doesn’t help that many relationships, both romantic and platonic, are determined, to a certain extent, by attractiveness.
People in all stages of life are discriminated against on the basis of weight, but eating disorders typically begin between 18 and 21 years of age. This makes the college setting a particularly important space to hold conversations about helping friends with eating disorders, as many people know someone struggling with one.
Often these conversations are derailed by a focus on cheesy packets with obvious yet impossible advice and overly dramatic illustrations. To a certain extent, this meeting stuck with that trend. Pamphlets on a table at the entrance with titles like ‘Who Am I Without Ed,’ tried a bit too hard.
Some examples: “We wonder if all this recovery mumbo-jumbo is really just that—mumbo jumbo.” Or, “I admit things are horribly miserable with Ed, but at least I’m thin.”
Once the threshold was crossed, however, the conversation was rewarding. Instead of focusing on the written resources, Wilbert opened the conversation to the students in the room. The common assumption was that every person knew someone they believed was struggling with an eating disorder. The presence of those not in the room was palpable. It gave each question a depth that centered the room on realistic dialogue.
To protect their privacy, the participants will remain anonymous, but their words are nonetheless powerful. Many students were concerned about confrontation.
“I’m always worried about adding to the negative things they probably are upset about.”
“I feel like it’s not my place.”
“I don’t want them to be less likely to keep me informed.”
“I don’t want them to feel like a burden.”
Wilbert made one thing very clear: rather than trying to support someone on your own, you can help by leading them to professionals. There are many resources on campus to help people struggling with mental health problems, whether at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. If the person is close with them, a Residential Life Coordinator or Resident Advisor is a good resource for a warm handoff. If they are comfortable with it, the counseling center has a 24-hour line. If phone calls are intimidating, “To Write Love on Her Arms” is a text-based counseling service.
Wilbert explained that often the best way to introduce someone to these services is as a model. Call the help-line when you are with them. Tell them about your experience with counseling services if you have any. Take them to their appointment or help them schedule one. No matter what you do, don’t just talk about action; move to it.
• Residential Life Coordinator
• Resident Advisor
• Counseling Center–(719)389-6093
• “To Write Love on Her Arms”–Text TWLOHA to 741-741