Eating disorders can start as calorie-counting. Then comes skipped meals, further restriction and binging. Social media and entertainment project the idea that bodies should look a certain way, making it difficult for students to feel comfortable in their skin.
These standards pressure teenagers and young adults to strive for perfection, pushing some college students to do harmful things to their bodies.
The signs of eating disorders are sometimes hard to spot, wrapped in a negative stigma and tied together with secretive habits. Despite these challenges, there are several signs that someone is struggling with an eating disorder. Things like an obsession with food or body size, excessive exercise or unusual behavior while eating are some indicators of eating disorders.
Leeya Patel, a senior at Georgia State, explains that she was extremely self-conscious during the early stages of struggling with an eating disorder. Her entire life, she had a fixation on the “healthy weight range” for her age, height and gender. She struggled with skipping meals, traded proper nutrients for coffee and sacrificed necessary calories for a slim figure.
“It took me quite a few years to understand that my eating habits were unhealthy and signs of an eating disorder,” Patel said.
The media portrays eating disorders as obvious, drastic changes in body shape or behavior, which can be misleading. Bodies come in all different shapes and sizes, and each person works differently.
Patel explained that her eating disorder was hard to spot because she did not feel as if her weight was drastically changing.
“I thought that an eating disorder required some kind of noticeable eating habits or purging habits,” Patel said.
After a lot of reflection, Patel realized that skipping meals and refusing food was not acceptable for her physical or mental health.
“After a lot of reflecting on the way that I eat, I realized that I found myself skipping meals and drinking coffee for breakfast and lunch rather than giving myself food with actual nutrients,” Patel said. “I started telling myself that since I snacked a lot the day before, I didn’t need to eat much the next day.”
Eating disorders can be complicated but a healthy relationship with food is the first step to breaking out of disordered eating habits.
It is important to remember how much purpose bodies have outside of their external appearance to avoid the stigmas associated with eating disorders. According to Patel, prompting self-love is key to overcoming eating disorders.
“You wouldn’t be sitting where you are without your body doing incredible work,” Patel said. “Learning to recognize yourself as beautifully as you recognize others is hard, but every single body is so beautiful and powerful.”