Confronting eating disorders on college campus

 The Walden Behavioral Care is having a panel about eating disorders in the Women's center. (Patricia Jerzak/The Daily Campus)

The Walden Behavioral Care is having a panel about eating disorders in the Women's center. (Patricia Jerzak/The Daily Campus)

Eating disorders kill more people today than any other psychiatric disease yet many insurance companies still put up roadblocks to proper care and research into these disorders isn’t well funded. Four professionals from Walden Behavioral Care participated in a panel discussion in the Women’s Center Monday night to discuss eating disorders, their prevalence on college campuses and how they relate to popular culture. Active Minds and the Women’s Center worked together to host the panel as one of the first events taking place during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which started on Monday and lasts through March 4.

The four panelists, Walden Assistant Program Director Nicole Pipitone, Registered Dietician Valerie Bryden, Clinician and Art Therapist Shannon Marone and Portia Kimbis, with Marketing and Community Relations, emphasized how discussion on eating disorders is especially important on a college campus. According to Pipitone, 10 to 20 percent of women and four to 10 percent of men on college campuses are clinically diagnosed with eating disorders. Triggers exist in higher concentrations at a university where classes may conflict with mealtimes, students experience added stress when they leave the familiarity of their homes and young adults feel a greater need to exercise control over some aspect of their lives.

Of course, the nature of college occasionally leads to students eating at strange times or in strange ways, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have an eating disorder. While college students may practice “disordered eating” every once in a while, that’s different from an eating disorder, according to the panelists.

“An eating disorder actively interferes with your ability to have a life,” Bryden said. An example of this would be turning down lunch with a friend because you’re not eating anything.

Besides the challenges that come with a college environment, the panelists also discussed other pressures that come into play on social media. As Pipitone explained, often images on Instagram are tailored to show a perfect life and a perfect body, which in turn leads to negative body images. Or else everybody is dieting or going gluten free, talking about what they should and shouldn’t eat.

“Our culture is a culture of shoulds and shouldn’ts,” Bryden said, ‘but we were born knowing how to eat.”

She explained often what the body naturally wants to eat, when we don’t impose restrictions or expectations on ourselves, is what’s healthiest.

The panelists went through several disorders that are referenced commonly, whether on TV or in health classes, such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder, however they also mentioned Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and OSFED, or Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders.

ARFID is very similar to anorexia in that individuals are highly selective or inconsistent in their eating patterns, but whereas Anorexia is caused by a fear of becoming overweight, ARFID is motivated by something else such as fear of choking, texture, color or smell. OSFED applies to individuals who experience symptoms similar to other disorders that get in the way of a normal lifestyle, but the requirements for diagnosis may not be fully met.

“I think the other specified eating disorders is such an important topic because it’s new,” sixth semester nutrition major Shayna Deluca said. “People with it wouldn’t always consider themselves to have an eating disorder.”


Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.houdeshell@uconn.edu.