Students need more support in eating disorder recovery

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A study conducted in 2013 by the National Eating Disorders Association found that up to 20% of women and 10% of men in college struggle with an eating disorder. This is a significantly larger portion of people than other age groups. Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash.

Sydney Collins is a senior at the University of Connecticut and the Student Services Director for the Undergraduate Student Government.

A study conducted in 2013 by the National Eating Disorders Association found that up to 20% of women and 10% of men in college struggle with an eating disorder. Other research has shown that around ages 18 to 21 is the median onset for anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders.  

Eating disorders can affect people from every race, size, gender identity, sexual orientation and background. However, the stereotypes that accompany eating disorders paint higher-income, white women as the majority of people affected. This is harmful as it misrepresents the causes of eating disorders and prevents people from identifying with and seeking ED support. BIPOC people are more likely to experience bulimic or restrictive behavior, but are half as likely to get diagnosed or receive treatment. LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities, people with larger bodies, athletes, veterans and young adults are all more likely to develop EDs. 

Many people, even clinicians, perceive obsession around weight, body shape and food as the sole cause of EDs. Many people believe it’s only about a relationship with food and do not recognize the emotional triggers that lead to EDs. However, trauma, mental health conditions like anxiety, depression and addiction, dysfunctional families and more all serve to increase a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder. A study by Walden Behavioral Care found that ADHD is the most commonly missed diagnosis related to disordered eating. 20-30% of adults with autism struggle with eating disorders comparatively to the overall 10% of United States population. 

Students at the University of Connecticut are no exception. COVID-19 significantly increased the development of ED behavior. However, as someone who has experienced an eating disorder and works to support others in recovery within my role in the Undergraduate Student Government, there is not enough conversation on campus about struggles and resources. 

UConn Student Health and Wellness has free nutrition counseling where students struggling with EDs can meet with a Registered Dietitian. USG recently purchased Intuitive Eating Workbooks that students in counseling can receive for free. UConn S.H.A.P.E. is a peer education group that promotes body acceptance amongst students, and co-hosts the UConn Body Project with the Women’s Center to decrease eating disorder risks. UConn Recovery Community also provides a space for students that struggle with substance use and/or other mental and behavioral health disorders including eating disorders. They host All Recovery meetings at 6 p.m. on Mondays at the Recovery Community Center at 1332 Storrs Road or online. 

Based on the numbers of the 2013 study by NEDA, up to 2,300 students struggle with eating disorders at UConn. With only four registered dietitians and three major ED-related programs on campus, the resources we currently have are inadequate to support all the students in need. Fellow students have also expressed to me the difficulty in taking time off from school to receive inpatient treatment off-campus. It is unacceptable that students should face penalties to seek intensive or accessible treatment not available on campus. 

UConn needs to increase and diversify the conversation about EDs on campus, increase the amount of programming and support available for students with EDs on or off campus and have trauma-informed and culturally-relevant treatment to lead recovery. Students, you are not alone, and I hope you are able to join the recovery journey that you so deserve. 

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