“I Had No Idea”: National Eating Disorder Week breaks silence at college campuses

SF State student Lindsay Wengler struggled with bulimia and anorexia in her past, but after receiving guidance, it gave her the strength to pay it forward to students today.

Prior to moving to San Francisco, Wengler led an eating disorder support group in New York City for five years. She said that she wanted to provide information and support to those in her new community since eating disorders affect many college students. She thought that SF State would be a perfect venue to help others.

Wengler said that she did not speak to anyone about her eating disorder until she visited a eating disorder awareness table in the state of Washington. She added that she was so nervous, she only grabbed some information and an eating disorder awareness ribbon before she hurried away.

“That brief moment really changed my outlook on recovery because it helped me realize that help was available, that there are people that care and want to help,” said Wengler. “I still carry that little ribbon around with me and it is a constant reminder to help others in the same way they have helped me.”

The Student Dietetics Association, whose mission is to raise awareness about healthy eating and nutrition on campus, held its first National Eating Disorder Awareness Week event on campus Feb 24. Members talked to students about what to do if they suspect that a friend or family member has an eating disorder and where to find local support groups.

SDA President Bobby Maknoon said that since the event went well, the association is in the process of adding a committee solely devoted to raising awareness about eating disorders and disordered eating.

“This is a completely new part of SDA that has not existed in prior years,” said Maknoon.

The purpose of this year’s theme, “I Had No Idea,” was to break the silence about eating disorders on college campuses.

“I’ve had a lot of friends that have done some pretty awful things to their bodies to try and look a certain way,” said association member Sarah Brockman. “It’s sad what people go through.”

Brockman added that she thinks that there is not enough awareness about eating disorders on campus because of the subject’s private nature.

There is neither a group on campus nor a place dedicated to raising awareness and providing support to those with eating disorders, according to Wengler. She also said that since a lot of students showed interest during the event, that they would benefit from these services year-round.

The Student Dietetics Association plans on having a peer outreach group on campus to help those who are struggling with an eating disorder, according to Wengler.

Although the group will not provide professional counseling services, it will serve as a resource of information and support to students so they can receive care.

If a student needs immediate attention, the student health center has a dietitian and counseling services available, according to Maknoon.

Jennifer Lombardi, chief admissions officer and eating disorder treatment specialist at Eating Recovery Center of California, said it is important to spread awareness about eating disorders on college campuses because some of the highest rates of eating disorders are found in the 18 to 21 age category.

Lombardi added since this age group is a time when students encounter transition and change, it can be difficult for them if they are struggling or are at risk of struggling with an eating disorder.

“Unfortunately in our culture, since we put so much emphasis on weight, appearance and exercise, more so now than ever, I think what you end up having is a minimization culture,” said Lombardi, who is also an eating disorder survivor. “And we tend to sort of dismiss or normalize a lot of these behaviors.”

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