Eating disorders have a hold on college students

Aaron Helmbrecht

Aaron Helmbrecht

When we think of an eating disorder, most of us might conjure up an image of a privileged Caucasian woman with nothing else to worry about but her vanity. And in some instances that might be the case. But if that is the public image of an eating disorder, then entire groups of people have been forced into obscurity.

The face of an eating disorder is the 3rd grade girl who skips lunch because she’s on a diet. It is the overweight boy who binge eats after being teased and bullied into depression. It’s the teenagers trying to look like the airbrushed and photo shopped images in their magazines. It’s the athletes who want to bulk up or slim down to be competitive in their sport. It is everyone who abuses their body with starvation or excessive exercise because they feel a cultural obligation to look a certain way.

The face of an eating disorder can be seen right here on the CSUN campus. I once met a woman on campus who was beautiful and nice. I asked her if she wanted to go out to dinner with me. She declined saying that she’s not eating food right now. She just drinks tea with honey and cayenne pepper. At first I was upset thinking she was lying to blow me off. Now, for her sake, I hope she was lying.

A CSUN study of over 1,000 students at CSUN shows 28 percent of those surveyed have or have had an eating disorder. Almost 60 percent reported that they knew someone with an eating disorder.

Eating Disorders have a hold on college students across the country. Up to 90 percent of college women report significant stress over their body image and have attempted to control their weight through dieting. Of these women, 25 percent engage in binging and purging as a weight-management tactic.

This year thousands of men and women will die of anemia, heart failure, and other complication relating to malnutrition and disordered eating. We will never know exactly how many deaths are the direct result of eating disorders because death certificates only list the physiological cause of death, not the psychological trigger.

This week we celebrate the 32nd annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The point of this week is not to eradicate eating disorders or eliminate all our insecurities. This is a week for raising awareness. Because it is through awareness that we learn why we do the things we do to ourselves or feel the way we feel about our bodies. When we think we are alone and in some way uniquely defective, awareness shows us that we are not alone.

This Tuesday the CSUN student peer education organization JADE (Joint Advocates on Disordered Eating) will hold a tabling event from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on the Matador Walkway to spread eating disorder awareness with activities and giveaways.

On Thursday, Jenni Schaefer, best-selling author of, “Good Bye ED, Hello ME” and, “Life Without ED,” will speak at 9:30 am in the USU Grand Salon. Schaefer will share the story of her triumph over eating disorders and will guide students toward a path of positive body image and healthy self-esteem. Tickets are free but limited. I would encourage everyone to come to these events to show your support for your friends, your family, and most importantly for yourself.

But if you can’t make it to the events, do this one thing. The next time you look in the mirror, don’t immediately focus on your pimples or scars or that part of you that you think is too big or too small. Instead, find that one part of you that is absolutely perfect. It could be your hair, your eyes, your lips, your chest. Whatever it is, just focus on it. Then look at yourself and you will see that all your imperfections pale in comparison to how beautiful you really are. And don’t ever let anyone tell you different. Not even yourself.