Rutgers students discuss eating disorders in advance of national recognition week
Eating disorders are a set of illnesses that affect many college campuses, including Rutgers. National Eating Disorder Awareness week exists in attempt to help with this issue in various ways.
National Eating Disorder Awareness week runs from Feb. 21 to 27, and is a time when many organizations aim to educate, treat and discuss eating disorders.
Data showed an increase in eating disorders over a period of 13 years in one college, from 23.4 to 32.6 percent among females and an increase from 7.9 to 25 percent among males, according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).
Gretta Gleissner, a recovered eating disorder patient, founded an organization called Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.
Gleissner worked as a therapist in a transitional home, and said she found patients did well in her office, but struggled when they returned to school or home.
Gleissner helped develop the Campus Companion, which she said is an added layer of support to allow students to maintain academics and recovery at the same time.
The organization speaks with the client’s outpatient team, usually provided by the school, to develop a recovery plan. The companion provides adjunctive support and meal support for the student, she said.
“College students in particular are very vulnerable to either develop eating disorders or if they have been in treatment, to relapse due to the nature of the large transition and heavy pressures of college,” Gleissner said.
Mor Dadi, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and a recovered eating disorder patient, struggled with both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa for more than three years.
“My disorder started as a diet, then I fell into this hole (and) I started digging deeper and deeper,” she said.
Eating disorders are about competition and being thin was the goal and she wanted to be the best, Dadi said.
"Arriving to college reversed some of the recovery progress I made at home. The endless options at the dining halls were overwhelming and everyone was obsessed with dieting and working out," she said.
Attempting to gain control is a huge part of eating disorders, Dadi said. With anorexia, she felt she had control, but when it transitioned to bulimia, she felt she lost that control.
The transition to college can be a time of uncertainty, Gleissner said. Depending on how students deal with emotional regulation and stress, this transition can trigger or maintain an eating disorder.
The media has also strongly influenced and perpetuated a societal ideal that makes students feel they constantly have to look a particular way, Gleissner said.
"The media was not the only influence, but it inflated my eating disorder," Dadi said. “When you see actresses or when you see thin people with that Barbie body, you think, ‘Oh I am going to try to be like that’, when in reality it is nearly impossible."
Gleissner likes how the media has tried to be more flexible by presenting more body types.
“The idea of challenging the thin ideal is what is necessary at the treatment and community level in order to allow good recovery,” said Patricia Woodin-Weaver, a staff psychologist at Rutgers Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services (CAPS).
Many are conflicted about recovery, she said. People struggle because their recovery is going to reject the thin ideal. Widening the conversation by challenging the notion that thin is ideal at the societal level will translate to success on the individual recovery level, Woodin-Weaver said.
At the treatment level, early intervention leads to the greatest recovery. Long standing eating disorders could lead to irreversible physical side-effects like diminished bone health, Woodin-Weaver said.
The best form of eating disorder treatment is the use of a multi-disciplinary team, she said. This includes a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse practitioner, nutritionist and other representatives at Rutgers or in the community to develop a plan for a struggling student.
“Once you hit that point of deciding you want to recover, it becomes that much easier,” Dadi said.
Francesca Petrucci is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. Find her on Twitter @TheFranWeekly for more.