Sunday marked the end of National Eating Disorders Association’s annual awareness week, which is usually marked with an on-campus NEDA walk. This year, the walk will be online.
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, or #NEDAwareness, is intended to “shine the spotlight on eating disorders” through education, hope and making resources available to those in need, according to NEDA's website.
The awareness week was brought to campus in 2019 through a partnership between Karen McMullen and former Student Body Vice President Mills Hayes.
“My dream was to get it onto campus at the university because I knew how many college students struggled with eating disorders, so I felt, you know, that’s where it should be,” McMullen, who also founded NEDA walks in Columbia in 2012, said.
The walk would have been last Saturday on the Horseshoe, and in the past, featured crowd-pleasers such as Cocky, the Carolina Girls dance team and a DJ. The walk is largely symbolic, consisting of one lap around the Horseshoe.
The walk has moved online this year, and shifted from individual cities to a regional model. Students who want to participate can register for the East Team online at NedaWalk.org. The event will take place on April 25, and registration is free.
McMullen said since the walk moved to campus, the mood has become less somber and more lively.
“We may not be that big here today, at the walk. But we’re just as powerful as all those people who’re fighting against eating disorders," McMullen said.
Emma Gerraughty, a third-year mass communications student and a member of the service sorority Omega Phi Alpha, participated in the event last year.
“I just thought that it had a really good message,” Gerraughty said. “I think that a lot of times on college campuses there's just a lot of stigma around eating, and I feel like disordered eating is very normalized.”
Traditionally, Student Government teamed up with Student Health Services and planned events around campus to highlight the week. However, with many students attending virtually, these events have largely moved online.
According to Quinyana Brown, USC's sexual health program coordinator, Student Health Services held two tabling events on campus “talking to [students] about what it means to be body positive and highlighting body neutrality in a sense that we don’t necessarily have to focus on the aesthetics how our body looks, more so taking that holistic wellness approach — to look at your body and appreciate it for what it can do for you and what it does do for us.”
One of her goals as a program coordinator is to "try to expand the conversation and make sure that it's not monotonous," Brown said.
"I want to try to be more intersectional, and more inclusive, in how we frame the conversation around body image, because I know that can mean who you are, what you look like ... that lived experience can be quite different," Brown said.
According to NEDA, full-syndrome eating disorders are most likely to emerge between 18 and 21 years of age, the average age range of college students.
NEDA says a majority of students who experiment with dieting will have no problems — but a little over a third of "normal" dieters will develop pathological dieting behaviors. Of those who progress to that stage, another 20% to 25% will develop a partial or full-syndrome eating disorder.
Olivia Sullivan, a registered dietician at the university, suggested students who feel they are struggling with disordered eating first call the counseling center to set up a triage appointment, where their level of care will be determined. They'll then meet with an "eating disorder consultation team" to determine their treatment plan. The team typically consists of a registered dietician, a counselor, a psychiatrist, a primary care doctor, nurses and a case manager, according to Sullivan.
The university also offers two support groups for students struggling with eating disorders.
Mood and Food is more of a traditional support group model where students "can come and discuss the things that they're struggling with, with other people that are also struggling with the same stuff and receive support from other students in the group and the counselors that lead the group," Sullivan said.
Mindful Eating is a group for students who struggle with a "dieting mentality," and is helpful for those struggling with binge-eating and emotional eating, Sullivan said.