The Daily Illini

Campus unites to bring awareness to eating disorders this week

By Sidney Madden, Staff writer

Editor’s note: A early version of this article wrongfully inferred that Liu believed having an eating disorder was a positive experience. Liu really meant that people can learn more about healthy eating habits while overcoming an eating disorder. The Daily Illini regrets the error.

Eating disorder resources have increased in recent years after a 13-year study by the National Eating Disorders Association showed a significant increase in eating disorders, from 7.9 to 25 percent for male students and from 23 to 32 percent for female students.

This year’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, organized by the Counseling Center, aims to broaden the definition of what an eating disorder is and who suffers from it.

This week, the Women’s Resources Center, the School of Social Work and the African American Cultural Center are hosting various events around campus to promote awareness about eating disorders.

Arielle Brown, doctoral student in counseling psychology and graduate assistant for Black Student Outreach at the Counseling Center, said college is an common time to develop an eating disorder because of various stressors, including academics, time management, lack of structure and identity development.

She also cited racism as one of the stressors for minority students, specifically black students, at predominantly white institutions.

Brown said the lack of research on eating disorders in the black community is due to underreporting, which overrepresents whites as the only group who suffers from eating disorders.

As a result, Brown has had clients whose physicians delay treatment because they don’t associate black individuals with eating disorders.

The food culture in the black community also explains some common eating disorder behavior, Brown said.

“Food is very important, which is why binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder among black individuals,” Brown said. “Black individuals can hide behind cultural celebrations with food and how obesity is already common among the black community, people can hide behind that as well.”

Yu-Yun Liu, a clinical counselor at the Counseling Center, said anyone can be susceptible to an eating disorder for a variety of reasons.

“Eating disorders don’t discriminate,” Liu said. “I think a lot of behavior looks the same, but the intention behind it makes it different.”

Body image can be a driving force for eating disorders, and different demographics have different body images reinforced to them through the media.

“Standards for beauty are different for different communities,” Liu said. “That doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from body image; they just struggle in a different way.”

These body image standards can also explain how different demographics suffer from eating disorders at different rates.

White women’s beauty standards revolve around thinness and they suffer from anorexia at higher rates, while black women’s beauty standards are centered around being more full-figured, and they are more prone to binge eating and becoming bulimic.

Other groups suffer from eating disorders, too. Liu and Brown agree that though men are generally understudied and seek out mental help less, they also experience eating disorders and feel pressure to be muscular.

Studies suggest gay men suffer from eating disorders at higher rates than straight men. Liu also attributed eating disorders in transgender individuals to the lack of representation in mass media.

The eating disorders themselves can ultimately be as diverse as the people who have them. Liu explained how one can engage in disordered eating without having a full-blown eating disorder. On the disordered-eating spectrum, there are various behaviors, like over-exercising and yo-yo dieting, that could potentially lead to an eating disorder.

“Often times when we work with someone, their relationship with food, it’s also a representation or manifestation of their relationship with themselves,” Liu said.

On Thursday, there will be facilitators set up by the Ikenberry Dining Hall to teach students and staff about mindful eating and its applications in the dining hall.

Throughout the week, resources will be given to students on how to seek treatment.

Justine Karduck, an undergraduate dietetics adviser, said in an email that treatment should be tailored to each patient, but it requires an interdisciplinary team consisting of a licensed therapist, a dietitian and a primary care physician.

Liu believes people learn to understand how to eat right and take care of their bodies with a healthy mindset when they overcome an eating disorder. 

“Having gone through an eating disorder in your early 20s or late teens probably teaches you to better your relationship with yourself,” Liu said. “I think that’s something you’ll continue to be mindful of.”

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