Student group addresses eating disorders

Matthew Leonard 
Contributing Writer 

Thanks to the work of a VCU student, those suffering from eating disorders have a student group of their own.

In a survey done by the American College Health Association, .7 percent of VCU students reported being diagnosed with anorexia, while .4 percent reported being diagnosed with bulimia.

Ashleigh Shackelford, a business administration and political science double major, said the problem is not enough body image positivity.

“There are a lot of problems with beauty standards, with the fact that fat people are generally marginalized, and that thin is upheld as the only possible version of beauty,” she said.

In August, Shackelford started a student organization called Free Figure Revolution. The group’s goal is fighting the idea of what is stereotypically attractive and raising awareness for all body types.

The group is gaining more attention than Shackelford expected. With one rally under its belt, the group plans on having another focusing on sexual consent later
this month.

Eating disorders are crippiling mental illnesses, said Stacie McEntyre, CEO of Veritas Collaborative, a hospital in Durham, NC. Those affected are challenged with a submissive relationship with their food. While rare, for those who suffer with their control, the effects can be life changing.

McEntyre said college-based stress can be a factor in eating disorder emergence.

“Once a student gets to college with the lack of supervision, the external pressures, the competitive nature of being in college along with peer interactions, often times the eating disorder will exacerbate or develop,” McEntyre said.

The stress of maintaining may be a factor in eating disorder in college campuses. In a report by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorder (ANAD), 91 percent of women on college campuses said they have attempted to control weight through dieting.

A diet turning into an eating disorder is a key transition, which the medical community has yet to pinpoint, said Katherine Vatalaro Hill, assistant director of the Wellness Resource Center.

“Dieting can be a trigger to an eating disorder. That’s not to say that every one who goes on a diet will end up with an eating disorder, but we know it is one of the factors that can lead to one,” she said.

Many people with eating disorders also have a comorbid diagnosis, which can be one or more disease diagnoses with the eating disorder. Common comorbid diagnoses for eating disorders include depression and chemical dependency,  McEntyre said.

There is a consensus in the world of medicine of the possible triggers of eating disorders. However, the exact cause remains unknown to researchers.

“We know there is some sort of chemical change going on in the brain, but we don’t know exactly what causes eating disorders,” Hill said.

The mysteries behind the causes of eating disorders could stem from the lack of funding allotted to study the diseases by the federal

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), eating disorders are almost 10 times as common as schizophrenia. However, the funding put toward schizophrenia research was almost 10 times that of eating disorders.

Because there is no pill or treatment that will guarantee recovery, Vatalaro said the Well  tailors every treatment to the individual.

“Every case is different,” Vatalaro said.

McEntrye said people who are serious about getting help with an eating disorder need to assemble a team around them, including a doctor or dietician. She also said no case should be taken lightly.

“Eating disorders are the most lethal mental illness that exists,” she said. “It is really critical that intervention occur quickly and aggressively to interrupt the progression of the disorder.”

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