Changing the stigma around eating disorders

Madeline Scalzi

When sophomore nursing major Alexis Himes fainted during a high school basketball game, she had no idea how dangerous her eating disorder had become.

“My body was really deteriorating,” Himes said.

Himes and two other Kent State students shared the extent of their struggles with eating disorders at a National Eating Disorder Awareness Panel Thursday.

“I was in a relationship and I got nervous eating around them,” said Samantha Kavander, a senior nutrition major. “We were both on the same swim team, and so I would never eat with the team before or after meets. I started realizing I wasn’t eating, but then I was exercising, so that’s how it started happening.”

Eating Disorders By the Numbers 

In a study by the National Eating Disorder Association, which looked at calorie restriction prior to alcohol consumption in college freshmen, 14 percent of the subjects reported restricting calories, with 6 percent reporting the behavior to avoid weight gain and 10 percent to enhance alcohol’s effect.

One study found that 35 percent of female and 10 percent of male college athletes were at risk for anorexia nervosa and 58 percent of female and 38 percent of male college athletes were at risk for bulimia nervosa.

In a survey of college students, transgender students were significantly more likely than members of any other group to report an eating disorder diagnosis in the past year.

Triggered by the stressors of adapting to college life, many people go without help due to the stigma they associate with eating disorders.

“Eating disorders are definitely something I think a lot of people feel like they should be ashamed of,” Himes said. “With my mom, we don’t talk about it. We pretend like it didn’t happen, and so I think it’s important to talk about it because there’s definitely a stigma.”

Himes also blames the unrealistic standards of beauty set by social media.

“I think that overall our society places such an emphasis on being thin and beautiful,” Himes said. “You see it everywhere you go and that definitely impacted the way I viewed myself.”

Kavander added social media can also have a positive influence on body image, depending on who you follow.

“Demi Lovato is like, ‘Everything is possible, yeah,’” Kavander said, chuckling.

Kent State’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week focused on learning the signs of and destigmatizing eating disorders through events centered around body positivity and eating disorder education. The Body Acceptance Movement, University Health Services and the Student Dietetic Association even sponsored a National Eating Disorders Screening Day on Wednesday, Feb. 28.

“These conversations don’t take place on an average basis,” said Sarah Ballard, a senior criminology and justice studies major and the president of the Body Acceptance Movement at Kent. “In an intimate setting, it’s easier and feels more comfortable to have that conversation about eating disorders.”

Ballard emphasized how influential incorporating mental health and eating disorder awareness into First Year Experience courses could be.

“Be honest with yourself,” Kavander said about her anorexia diagnosis. “If someone says you need help and you have a problem, you should look at yourself in the mirror and figure it out because you probably have a problem.”

Himes emphasized the importance of taking care of yourself and your well-being.

“It’s OK not to be OK,” Himes said.

Madeline Scalzi is a student life and education reporter. Contact her at [email protected].