“An Open Letter to those Affected by Eating Disorders,” Amanda Burke (2016) — Inquiry 3

Writer’s Reflection:

Eating disorders have become very prevalent on college campuses and they have not been given adequate attention. I chose this topic because I knew many people in high school that struggled and will continue to struggle with eating disorders and no one recognized the signs or educated people on the signs once they found out. In college, many more people will develop these issues, so the care given to the matter should be more prominent than it currently is. It will affect many people either directly or through a friend. The goal of my essay is to convince those with eating disorders to seek help, those who suspect friends might have eating disorders to offer assistance, and for colleges specifically Miami University to provide more adequate programming and information regarding these topics. I wrote to anyone struggling with an eating disorder or anyone who knows someone who may be struggling. I tailored my essay to cater to their needs by expressing the problems they faced with compassionate language and offering ways on which they can help or receive assistance. I think my strongest argument is the resilience factors that they should build up in order to love themselves. I think my weakest argument would revolve around the fact that I have no information or statistics regarding those with eating disorders on Miami’s campus to push the university to consider better programming. This topic matters because it can save lives, and my intervention can push people to help themselves or others.

An Open Letter to those Affected by Eating Disorders

To my Girls,

You and your roommate have grown very close since the start of the year, you feel so lucky to have found a roommate who can double as your best friend. She seems to be wonder-woman getting involved in everything that she can. She is volunteering for different activities, taking on leadership roles, making friends, and working hard to get good grades. However, after a month or so you begin to notice some cracks in this perfect façade since you spend so much time with her. Yes, she has a busy schedule, but she rarely takes the time to sleep staying up well past a “normal” bed time and getting up for her 8:30 am class. She regularly skips dinner, using the excuse of nausea during practice, but will eat very large amounts of food the minute she gets home. That’s alright though, that means she is eating, no problem there. As for how unusually large the amount of food is, its college – home of the mantra eat whatever, whenever you want. You also notice that she usually chooses to eat a lot right before she is going to shower and this has become her routine during the week. You’re a bit jealous too, she seems to be able to eat whatever she wants without gaining any weight, which is why her comments when you are getting ready to go out on the weekend really startle you. As she is trying on different outfits she continuously comments that nothing fits right and her body doesn’t look good. This has happened enough that it is starting to catch your attention and so are her habits during the week. Does your roommate have a problem? This is college isn’t everyone struggling with the availability of food and the worry of gaining the freshmen 15?

Believe it or not, these aren’t just “college tendencies,” your roommate is exhibiting tendencies consistent with eating disorders. Could you identify that there was a problem? What would you do if you suspected there was a problem? Are there resources on campus to help? Are you the one with these tendencies? Do you feel comfortable enough to reach out for help?

College is a key transitional point in you and your roommate’s life; you are now filled with the freedom to make your own decisions, which can cause a lot of stress to pile up. More autonomy can lead to higher possibility for development of eating disorders, especially if someone is dissatisfied with their body image (“Body Image”). College is a new social venture and it causes an increase in self-consciousness as we constantly compare ourselves to others to determine our social standings. The thinner we are the more attractive we are (Goswami and Sandeva), and within the first year of college we are exposed to so many new social situations and comparisons. Even female body standards presented in the media can cause an increase in social anxiety because of the disconnect between the current state of our body and the body we desire. This can be overwhelming and lead to poor regulation of emotions, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. We use eating disorders in an attempt to reach this thin body image and avoid feeling inferior. Even all of the activities that we are in involved in could be a factor in the development of an eating disorder if these are groups that place a high value on appearance (Snapp, Hensley-Choate, and Ryu, Hensley-Choate, and Ryu).

Often times, your roommate won’t want to seek help on their own (Tillman and Sell). It is scary to admit that you need help; you may feel as though you are in control of the situation or hold body image in such a high regard that at this point it doesn’t matter what the repercussions are. Low mental health literacy contributed to this idea that we don’t need to seek help, or help others receive assistance (Gratwick-Sarll, Mond, and Hay; Tillman and Sell). Therefore, it is important to know what to look for. Symptoms can include expression of fear of weight gain or displeasure with body appearance, distorted body image, skipping meals, unusual eating habits (eating excessively or not enough), frequent weighing, extreme weight change, insomnia, constipation, dehydration, callouses on the backs of hands from self-induced vomiting, cavities or tooth decay, and a high interest in exercise. It is important as a good roommate and friend to be able to recognize these problems and encourage the seeking of help. If you are struggling with these characteristics, it is important to recognize that help is available. However, it can be difficult to find help especially as a freshman on a new campus. Many universities are not taking adequate action to help those suffering from eating disorders and Miami University is no exception.  

Without the publication of information on how to receive help, how are we supposed to know where to go when we find ourselves in need of help for personal or friend reasons? We know that if we have a low understanding of eating disorders we are less likely to get help and colleges are not promoting this type of information. Additionally, it has been found that new college students are less likely to get help because they are unaware of the resources that are available on campus (Tillman and Sell). Miami University doesn’t break out of this stigma. In my first few months at Miami, I heard nothing about their mental health programs. So, I did a bit of research on their website. During my search, I found a peer health education group, Hawks Peer Health Educators. However, they have no programming specific to helping those with eating disorder or helping recognize the signs that someone you love could be suffering from an eating disorder. I also found a referral sheet for receiving help if you are suffering from an eating disorder, that hasn’t been updated since 2013 (“Eating Disorder Referrals and Services”). One more major flaw in Miami’s plan for dealing with eating disorders is found on their student counseling service page. Miami advertises a self-assessment specific to our school, but this is not available so one must take a general screening (“Mental Health Self-Assessment”). Eating disorder development is most likely in early-adulthood, but most will not seek treatment if they do not have all the symptoms. This is why it is important for colleges to advertise programs and engage freshmen in programs that deal with eating disorders because of the barriers that are present (Gratwick-Sarll, Mond, and Hay).

There are certain factors that can protect young women from the outside pressures you are bombarded with in college. These factors are known as the body image resilience model and include factors ranging from family social support, perceived sociocultural pressure, rejection of the superwoman ideal, positive physical self-concept, and active coping and wellness. Family support has laid the foundation for initial thoughts on body image. Through a provision of secure attachment, emotional support, open communication, and family cohesion, we can be better prepared to resist stereotypes and build healthier eating habits. College greatly impacts this resilience factor as it is the first time that many people are away from home, so they feel more vulnerable. This is why it is so important to get involved and make good friends that can be your support system, like your family was at home. Additionally, the awareness that a model’s body is edited can assist in decreasing the sociocultural media pressures regarding what beauty looks like. It is also important to reject the superwoman ideal. As women we are expected to be relationship oriented, but independent; nurturing, but competitive; and passive, while working to achieve success. These contradictory explanations need to be rejected in order for us to become truly comfortable with ourselves and our bodies, if this is not properly addressed it can make some of us highly susceptible to eating disorders as a way to establish a sense of control in our life. Positive physical self-concept is also an important factor as one’s attitude towards fitness, endurance, and strength can be very protective against body dissatisfaction. Being taught effective coping strategies can offer an alternative to dealing with body dissatisfaction. A sense of holistic wellness and balance of multiple domains physical, spiritual, psychological, social, emotional, and intellectual can be of great assistance. However, this model focuses mainly on prevention that is done before arriving on campus. Therefore it is important to maintain these factors on campus and provide those who were missing these factors with a chance to build them up (Snapp, Hensley-Choate, and Ryu, Hensley-Choate, and Ryu).

Colleges need to take the issue of eating disorders on campus more seriously by taking action to prevent them and help us with them when they arise. They can work on building these resilience factors through unique objectives that can be implemented over many campuses, specifically Miami University.  These objectives can include reasons to get out of the dorm, so the focus is on something other than negative body image: building friendships, the support of friends allow for focus on inward ideals rather than outward, convincing girls that guys like them to be healthy, advertisement posters at school the promote diversity, and advice for women on inward beauty and self-acceptance (Smith-Jackson, Reel, and Thackeray). Some unique ideas include a women-only exercise facility that would provide a non-threatening environment to work out in. Increasing the convenience of healthier food options. Extracurricular options offer a distraction from worries regarding body dissatisfaction. Additionally, the poster thin ideal needs to be changed and the diversity of students shown needs to increase. Universities have unique opportunity to access a diverse group of students for interventions yet finding best practices is difficult, the ideal program could contain multiple components (Smith-Jackson, Reel, and Thackeray).

There are some basic ideas regarding the improvement of the environment to discourage eating disorders that Miami is already doing right. First, they encourage us to get involved on campus through different events during the first week of school, especially mega-fair. Miami does a good job of increasing the diversity of models shown on their websites, and adding new pictures often. These diverse and changing faces are found all over our campus and it makes me proud to know we are all represented.

There are also some basic ways that Miami could improve. Mega-fair could be improved by breaking it into smaller fairs with different days for service groups, sports groups, and professional groups. This would lead to more personal connections and a higher possibility of following through with commitments. Miami could do more to help us build friendships, especially in the larger dorms; it is harder for us to get to know people and build relationships. However, if we choose to get involved we can build relationships with the people we get to know in our extracurricular activities.

Miami University’s possibilities for implementing new techniques for dealing with eating disorders can be shaped around these ways to build resilience and can encourage innovation (Smith-Jackson, Reel, and Thackeray). Our peer group, Hawks Peer Health Educators, could improve greatly in the area surrounding body dissatisfaction. They currently offer no programming on this topic and I believe that adding this would be invaluable (“Programs”). The program could include why many struggle with eating disorders in college, what the symptoms are, and how we can build resilience against them contributing to a more aware campus (Çatikkaş; Tillman and Sell). Also, while Miami has many food options, the only places that are open 24/7 have rather unhealthy food. By changing the food available 24/7, the possibility of creating a more health conscious campus increases. Additionally, Miami could add a workout room for girls only. I know personally that walking into a gym of guys can be intimidating especially if I want to lift weights, so having a girls only section would contribute to healthier ways to control body satisfaction. The creation and implementation of new ideas or tweaking old ideas can add to the overall body satisfaction on campus. As a college we have so many resources and as a result, so much responsibility to take the best care we can of our population. Miami can put any number of programs in place, but it is up to us to want to help ourselves and our friends, so we must make the choice to be happy and work towards a healthy life style (Smith-Jackson, Reel, and Thackeray).

So, let us make a change together. I will begin by changing the way that I view myself in relation to others and I will work on building relationships unbiased by physical appearance. I will work to create a change in my own friends, letting them know the signs to look for to encourage them and inspire them to continue the chain and help others. I know what I am going to do with this information, but I challenge you to make goals of your own. Who will you have the ability to help now that you know? Remember, you are not in this alone. Know, that none of us are perfect – have compassion on yourself, it can go a long way (“Body Image”). We are all here for you waiting patiently to extend our hand to help.

From, your friend


Works Cited

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Çatikkaş, Fatih. “Physical Correlates Of College Students’ Body Image Satisfaction Levels.” Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal 39.4 (2011): 497-502. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

“Eating Disorder Referrals and Resources.” MIAMI UNIVERSITY, OXFORD, AND REGION (2013): 1-4. Miami University. Miami University, Aug. 2013. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Goswami, Shweta, Sandeep Sachdeva, and Ruchi Sachdeva. “Body Image Satisfaction Among Female College Students.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal 21.2 (2012): 168-172. Business Source Complete. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

Gratwick-Sarll, Kassandra, Jonathan Mond, and Phillipa Hay. “Self-Recognition Of Eating-Disordered Behavior In College Women: Further Evidence Of Poor Eating Disorders “Mental Health Literacy”?.” Eating Disorders 21.4 (2013): 310-327 18p. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

“Mental Health Self-Assessments.” Division of Student Affairs. Student Counseling Service, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2015.

“Programs.” Student Wellness. Miami University Division of Student Affairs, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2015.

Smith-Jackson, TeriSue, Justine J. Reel, and Rosemary Thackeray. “The Practical Application Of Promoting Positive Body Image On A College Campus: Insights From Freshmen Women.” American Journal Of Health Education 45.2 (2014): 105-111. ERIC. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

Snapp, Shannon, Laura Hensley-Choate, and Ehri Ryu. “A Body Image Resilience Model For First-Year College Women.” Sex Roles 67.3/4 (2012): 211-221. SocINDEX with Full Text. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

Tillman, Kathleen S., and Darcie M. Sell. “Help-Seeking Intentions In College Students: An Exploration Of Eating Disorder Specific Help-Seeking And General Psychological Help-Seeking.” Eating Behaviors 14.2 (2013): 184-186. PsycINFO. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.