Although college is the time where students can explore their interests and find out who they are and who they want to be, there are societal pressures surrounding students each day. These pressures reveal themselves in a variety of ways, including eating disorders (EDs). According to Child Mind Institute, an organization dedicated to helping children and families with mental health, “eating disorders typically begin between 18 and 21 years of age. Between 10 and 20 percent of women, and four to 10 percent of men in college suffer from an eating disorder.” 

Eating Disorders Awareness Week

February 26 through March 3 is Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW), “an annual campaign to educate the public about eating disorders and to engage in efforts to provide hope and to engage support for individuals and families affected by eating disorders.” EDAW’s theme for 2024 is “Get in the Know;” a theme encouraging everyone to learn about EDs, get involved in raising awareness, and share information and resources. 

Hiram College’s AmeriCorps program is encouraging students, staff, and faculty to wear blue and/or green. The College community is invited to stop by the Dining Hall on Thursday, Feb. 29 to learn more and show their support. Check out Hiram’s AmeriCorps Instagram (@happiathiram) each day for educational information and challenges.

A Terrier’s Story

Content warning: the following is a story from a student about their eating disorder. This may be emotionally challenging for some. Reader discretion advised.  

To help raise awareness for EDAW, we spoke with a fifth-year student wanting to share their story about their ED, how they started their recovery journey, and how they became an advocate for many students. This student wants to remain anonymous due to the story. 

“My experience started in childhood but became more of a problem in high school. That’s when I became aware that there were thoughts around my body. As a sophomore, I went to my counselor and told them I thought I had an ED because I started struggling with purging. She told me, ‘There are people with real eating disorders here.’ I felt very invalidated, so I never sought out help. Fast forward to my sophomore year at Hiram, I went no-contact with my parents, with my dad specifically. That was really hard, and as you can imagine, the symptoms came back in full force. 

Treatment

When I started formal treatment, it started out very competitive. Basically, I was thrown into a room with girls who all wanted to be skinnier than each other. I wasn’t doing well there – I lost more weight, so I went into a residential treatment program. There, I met more girls with anorexia who were so thin. I was so jealous; I still felt invalid and decided to push myself to be anorexic – and I did. 

My experience ended with me going to the hospital a couple of times and becoming so spiteful. I told myself that I was never going to try to get formal treatment again because of the additional trauma and invalid feelings it brought. But I did want to recover – it didn’t matter to me how long it took, but I would not be going back to the hospitals. 

The Social Model

I started working with a dietician who helped me understand that my ED was a disability. She changed the way I received help. Originally, I was getting treatment with the medical model. (According to the American Psychology Association, in the medical model, ‘disability is perceived as an impairment in a body system or function that is inherently pathological. From this perspective, the goal is to return the system or function to as close to ‘normal’ as possible.’) Regarding EDs, this includes diagnosing based on weight and believing that if a person gains weight, intrusive thoughts will stop. 

My dietician started using the social model, which looks to ’change the environment and society, rather than people with disabilities.’ I started dedicating myself to my studies, my education, things I was passionate about. My focus was helping people, especially helping children. I moved in with my boyfriend, who makes me dinner every night, who buys whatever groceries I want. Having the groceries, the dinner, the consistency, and the accountability he provides is just what my recovery needed. Formal treatment doesn’t offer a stable home life… It doesn’t treat perfectionism, trauma, complicated childhoods, or the hard college experiences, which is why it didn’t work for me.  

Supportive Professors & Staff

But now I’m doing well! I also had additional help from some of the professors and staff at Hiram. Asha Goodner, director of student health services, has supported me and other students going through similar journeys. The Health Center has adapted to different situations by implementing safer weighing practices. These include asking if a patient is comfortable being weighed, how they want to stand during the weighing, and if they want the number read out loud. I also found a lot of support with the Library staff this year. Because of my ED, I’ve struggled holding a job. But this has been the first time I’ve held a job for longer than eight months.

James Workman, director of residence life and commuter services, was also a big support for me as a Resident Assistant. He let me come into his office and talk about whatever I needed to talk about. Also shout out to Dr. Yoshizaki-Gibbons, assistant professor in biomedical humanities, who helped me internalize that my ED is a disability. Dr. Michelle Nario-Redmond, professor of psychology and biomedical humanities, has also been amazing. She taught me to advocate for myself and others by providing a safe space for me. She was willing to have a conversation about my ED and how her and other professors teach classes.

Advocation

Speaking of advocating, there are a few things I think could be helpful to students on campus. One thing I’ve observed is that students don’t always know how to get therapy. Most students can use their parent’s insurance to access resources, or there’s always Medicaid available for college students. As students, we also need a grocery store. Other colleges have markets on campus where students can access fresh foods, and we should have something like that too! Something different than the Dining Hall, but someplace where you can go and buy necessities. Lastly, consider what other people might be going through with their bodies. Be considerate of what you’re saying.” 

EDAW is more than a designated timeframe to raise awareness. It’s a call to action to create lasting change. Our students share this ideology and emphasize fostering an environment where individuals are seen, heard, and understood. Hiram College works to break the stigma surrounding EDs and encourages those to find the resources they need. Behind every statistic, there are strong individuals facing these silent battles. Hiram will continue to build resources for those in need and ensure that no student faces these challenges alone. 

Interested in hearing and reading more stories like the one shared? Check out Stories We Can’t Tell (@storieswecanttell) on Instagram and TikTok. The posts dedicate sharing the anonymous journeys and stories of people navigating the healthcare system with an ED. 

For students wanting to talk with someone or looking for resources, please contact the Health Center at 330.569.5418 or healthcenter@hiram.edu.  

By Hannah Maxwell