As the weather heats up and clothes are shed, many students try to work off the extra weight brought on after spring break that has been hiding under oversize sweaters for a few months. People tend to lose weight as spring rolls around, purposefully and accidentally, but often at a cost that our bodies pay the price for. As more and more students hit the gym to promote their physical health, they should take care not to sacrifice their mental health.
While there is nothing wrong with students seeking to strengthen their bodies or to increase their physical strength, the temptation can be great to overdo it. As a result, nearly 30 percent of students fall victim to an eating disorder.
Juggling a day full of meetings, studying, social life and sleep can lead to a missed meal, but the often satisfied feeling of undereating rather than overeating to avoid typical college weight gain can be detrimental.
“It is important to look out for feelings of extreme guilt when one is unable to control food intake that can result in compensatory behavior, such as purging or overexercise,” said Katherine Yates and Jenny Bazan, eating disorder specialists at the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center. “In general when a preoccupation with weight, food and/or exercise starts to interfere with one’s emotional well being, it is time to consider seeking help.”
Subconsciously, the things we see and hear on a daily basis shape body image. In the process of attempting to keep our grades up, bolster our resumes and live the social aspect of the college experience, students sometimes crack under the pressure to succeed.
It can lead to ridiculous self-expectations, spreading from grades to the way your body looks in comparison to peers or pop culture icons.
Unfortunately, while up to 30 percent of college students reported having an eating disorder, many internalize them out of embarrassment.
“There is often a great deal of shame that people with eating disorders experience and, with this, they may feel isolation,” Yates and Bazan said. “It is important to note that your friend may or may not be ready for this feedback.”
Students should not only be aware of potentially harmful eating habits, but also what expectations society is placing on them, either subtly or not so subtly.
Female bodies are often portrayed in the media and pop culture with unattainable measurements and proportions. While men may not outwardly appear as preoccupied with body image, up to 10 percent of male college students have eating disorders. The trend crosses gender boundaries and racial categories, leaving every group at risk.
According to the specialists, harmful habits include being overly concerned with eating habits, overcompensating at the gym for guilty eating, constant body criticism and denying positive bodily comments. Even if the issue seems trivial, if students notice this within themselves or peers, seeking guidance is the best option.
“Often criticizing our own bodies is contagious to others,” they said. “This means that people often join in when they hear someone shaming their own or other’s bodies.”
Eating disorders are not a rare occurrence, nor are they something to be ashamed of. At a time when students are discovering themselves and enjoying their newfound independence, they should not be hindered by a desire to be perfect. We can change this trend simply by bringing awareness to it, being supportive of others and using the resources specifically made to help us.
Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston. Follow Griffin on Twitter @JazmynAlynn.