Speak Your Mind: CAPS Body Acceptance Week gives space to discuss eating disorders

Sammi Boas and Olivia Demetriades

OLIVIA DEMETRIADES: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Olivia Demetriades.

SAMMI BOAS: And I’m Sammi Boas. Welcome to “Speak Your Mind,” a weekly podcast dedicated to discussing mental health and self-care on Northwestern’s campus. Our goal is to facilitate a conversation about mental health that goes in-depth about what students are really experiencing and try to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health.

OLIVIA DEMETRIADES: The American Psychiatric Association characterizes eating disorders as extreme disturbances in eating behavior and related thoughts and feelings. People with eating disorders often become preoccupied with food and weight. Disordered eating can include eating disorders, but there are many people who struggle with symptoms that don’t meet the full criteria of an eating disorder.

SAMMI BOAS: Last week, CAPS organized a number of speakers and activities for their Body Acceptance Week, emphasizing the importance of body positivity and food freedom. CAPS worked with College Feminists to sponsor speaker Megan Campbell, a registered dietician whose work focuses on eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors.

SHERIDAN BERNARD: This year, we started a publicity campaign on body positivity and body acceptance, so we knew we wanted to have a speaker in the Winter Quarter.

SAMMI BOAS: This is Weinberg sophomore Sheridan Bernard. She’s the College Feminists publicity chair. They wanted to bring Campbell to campus as a part of a year-long publicity campaign.

SHERIDAN BERNARD: We decided that since we were already going to work on making stickers and just sending out the general message to campus, it would make sense to have body acceptance speakers. Megan Campbell also fit with our message of food acceptance and being aware that the way we treat food in society isn’t always the healthiest.

SAMMI BOAS: As a part of their campaign, College Feminists created stickers with body positive messages. They plan for spring quarter to have events asking students to say what they love about themselves and sharing some of the responses on social media. In response to the event, Sheridan said Campbell’s talk inspired her to reframe her thoughts around physical wellness.

SHERIDAN BERNARD: It’s been difficult for me as I learn more about disordered eating and eating disorders to talk about how can we make sure we’re treating our bodies well without doing it from a place of shame. How do we make sure that maybe we go exercise, but it’s not because we’re like, “I need to be skinny,” but it’s because like, “I want to maybe be able to just run a mile or something.” So I thought the way she changed how we approach getting healthy from a way of like, “I want to be skinny,” to “I want to just be able to do things,” I thought that was super interesting for me.

OLIVIA DEMETRIADES: During her presentation, Campbell showcased pictures from recent magazines with messages like “lose the fat,” “detox,” and “shake the weight” to shed light on how negative messages about food have become normalized.

MEGAN CAMPBELL: I think the goal was to really shine a light on how the external messages we hear start to impact the internal dialogue within us and the risk that can happen to increase disordered eating behaviors, body dissatisfaction. And then also to provide some tools and strategies to improve our relationship with food and our body.

SAMMI BOAS: Campbell thought the presentation helped shine a light on eating disorder issues.

MEGAN CAMPBELL: I am thrilled. I felt like the audience was enthusiastic. At the end, there were some really great questions. People were really open in sharing their experience and their struggle, so I would definitely consider it a success.

MEGAN CAMPBELL: The more we can provide resources, we can take away the shame associated with it. Young people can feel better about themselves, nourish their body well. And I really would love the incidence of eating disorder(s) and disordered eating to go down. The more we can talk about it and the more we can bring light to it, talk about what we’re hearing and seeing around us and how that’s impacting our food choices and our thoughts about our body, the more we can really heal ourselves and those around us.

OLIVIA DEMETRIADES: Eating disorders typically begin between ages 18 and 21, making presentations like Campbell’s especially necessary on college campuses. With different kinds of food and more freedom to eat what you want, unhealthy eating patterns can develop quickly. Even though worries of the “Freshman 15” can lead to negative eating habits, one study found that college freshmen gain only 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, on average, during their first year on campus. Disordered eating can act as a coping mechanism for social, academic and romantic stress.

SAMMI BOAS: The concept of dieting is ingrained into food culture, but 35 percent of people who start out as “normal dieters” progress into more serious, unhealthy dieting. Of that 35 percent, 20 to 25 percent develop partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.

OLIVIA DEMETRIADES: Northwestern has an Eating Concerns Assessment and Treatment Team that includes staff members from Counseling and Psychological Services, University Health Service and the Athletic Department Head Team Physician. The team offers assessments and individualized treatment recommendations and assistance in finding appropriate services to help.

SAMMI BOAS: But some students think the University could do more to provide support to students who struggle with eating disorders and disordered eating.

ANNIKA HIREDESAI: I recently had to talk to someone about what we should do as far as making another TND or something like that. And so I actually brought up body positivity because I feel like we don’t really talk about that with the mental health TND.

OLIVIA DEMETRIADES: This is Weinberg freshman Annika Hiredesai. Throughout high school and her first year in college, the way that Annika views food has changed a lot. While she now stresses out less with making decisions about her food, Annika realizes that it’s still a learning process.

ANNIKA HIREDESAI: I think when I was first aware of it was maybe sophomore year of high school just because I had gained a little bit of weight, and being on the tennis team, I didn’t necessarily fit like the standard that I had for myself of what a tennis player is supposed to look like. And so that was what started me feeling a little self-conscious about what I ate or how I looked. For a long time, I didn’t really do anything about it. And then, senior year of high school, I think was when I I started to track what I ate. But in the last year and a half, I started to realize that that wasn’t necessarily the best way to go about eating healthy.

OLIVIA DEMETRIADES: With all the conflicting messages about diet culture and health circulating on social media, Annika and many others still find it hard to strike a balance between eating healthy and obsessing over what they eat.

ANNIKA HIREDESAI: I think it’s hard because I tell myself that that’s a different standard; you can rationalize it all you want, but that’s still the image that you’re seeing, the image that people still aspire to be. Even if that’s not something you want, you feel pressure because other people want it.

OLIVIA DEMETRIADES: Almost everyone has days when they don’t feel amazing about their bodies. In some cases, professional help is necessary to address these issues. Annika talks to someone close to her.

ANNIKA HIREDESAI: If you have anyone who’s willing to listen to you, they’ll give you some outside perspective. When you dwell on it by yourself in your head, you start getting caught up in that cycle again, so just telling someone how you’re feeling about food, or how you’re feeling about what you just did, it goes a long way as far as making better choices for yourself.

OLIVIA DEMETRIADES: Students are encouraged to make an appointment with Northwestern’s registered dietitian Lisa Carlson by emailing dietitian@northwestern.edu if they are struggling with healthy eating habits. On CAPS’s website, there are links with more information about eating disorders and local resources that specialize in the treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating. You can find these links in this podcast’s transcript. That’s all we have for you today on “Speak Your Mind.” I’m Olivia Demetriades,

SAMMI BOAS: And I’m Sammi Boas. Thanks for listening!

SAMMI BOAS: This episode was reported and produced by me, Sammi Boas and Olivia Demetriades. It was edited by Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava. The editor in chief of The Daily Northwestern is Troy Closson.

Email: samanthaboas2023@u.northwestern.edu, oliviademetriades2023@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @BoasSamantha

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