National Eating Disorder Awareness Week sheds light on lack of College resources for disordered eating
While a 2018 College survey revealed that 81% of students said they were concerned they engaged in disordered eating, there is only one nutritionist on campus who works with eating disorders.
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is from Feb. 27 to March 5, and the College’s “underfunded” nutrition team is honoring the week with table tents on tabletops in ’53 Commons and a session of body positive yoga run by the Student Wellness Center, according to eating disorders campus advocate Elizabeth Rudnick ’23.
The general dearth of programming is due to a lack of resources for nutrition at the College, according to Dartmouth Peak Performance sports dietician Beth Wolfgram. Wolfram is the only dietician on campus available for students and student-athletes, she said.
“There’s only one of me and there’s like 5,000 people, so the resources are really spread thin,” Wolfgram said. “We’re not doing a ton for this particular week… We can’t be everything.”
The yoga class, “Love Your Body,” occurred on Feb. 28 and was organized by the Student Wellness Center. The class was “inspired by the fact that many disordered eating treatment and relapse prevention plans use yoga as an adjunct to traditional treatments,” director of SWC Caitlin Barthelmes wrote in an email statement.
They plan on continuing to offer the class for the rest of year, according to Barthelmes. SWC also complied a one-page resource guide with links to information on intuitive eating and seeking treatment on campus.
Rudnick said she was disappointed with the lack of programming, citing Dartmouth’s higher-than-average levels of disordered eating. A 2018 Dartmouth Health survey found that 81% of Dartmouth students said they were concerned they engaged in disordered eating, 30% worried they had lost control over food intake and 17% said food dominated their life.
“I do think the College should be doing more — they should be bringing awareness to this,” Rudnick said. “It’s obviously not something that we can brush to the side.”
Accessing disordered eating resources from Dick’s House is difficult, Rudnick said, adding that Wolfgram — who specializes in sports nutrition — has more work than one person can handle.
“Her primary job is to work with athletes, and I think that it would make much more sense for Dartmouth to have another nutritionist whose primary job is to work with students suffering from eating disorders,” Rudnick said.
Wolfgram, Rudnick and Dartmouth Dining Services nutritionist Beth Rosenberger agreed that the high number of eating disorders at Dartmouth comes from what Rudnick calls a “perfectionist mentality” common among high achieving students. Eating disorders can be used as a way to exert control over neglected feelings of anxiety and stress — which “speaks to other issues of mental health at Dartmouth,” Rudnick said.
Greek life at Dartmouth can also have complicated impacts on disordered eating, according to Rudnick. She said that the rush process is when students have the “most harmful thoughts” around body image. It’s easy to feel alienated from a house when you “don’t look like everyone” in terms of size, she added.
However, some Greek houses do sometimes host discussions on body positivity and can form a supportive network for people in recovery, Rudnick said.
These discussions are essential because problematic language about food exists all around Dartmouth’s campus, Rudnick said. She added that certain messaging encourages restrictive eating behaviors in ’53 Commons, with posters containing phrases like “Take less, waste less,” “eat less RED meat” and “Manage your portion size.”
Rudnick said she advocated for replacing these phrases with “food neutral” statements, and worked with Rosenberger to come up with alternative mantras including “Embrace food as fuel,” “Honor your hunger” and “Respect your fullness.”
“It really raised awareness on how I needed to rephrase things,” Rosenberger said. “[Students] don’t even like this ‘Eat less red meat,’ because, in their mind, in recovery, they are trying to eat a whole variety of foods and not restrict themselves in any way.”
Chemistry department laboratory technical manager Jean Carlan, whose child had an eating disorder, said that lack of aid for eating disorders and ignorance in the field of health isn’t specific to Dartmouth. She said that the most robust support she ever found during her family’s challenges relating to eating disorders was in a Facebook group.
“I wish the pediatricians and the therapists and the nutritionists all had a good understanding of how to best help people,” Carlan said. “A lot of them are really locked into diet culture and would say things like, ‘Oh, don’t worry, we’re not going to make you fat’ to my kid.”
Everyone interviewed agreed that in future years the College should organize more robust programming to honor the week.
Rudnick mentioned raising awareness around how students can use their meal plan when they’re in recovery as one potential avenue. Dartmouth Dining has an app through which students can arrange to have a large number of small meals prepared for them throughout the day, which is common when returning from an eating disorder, she said. However, Rudnick added that she believes that Dartmouth Dining is hesitant to publicize this option because they’re afraid of students “abusing” it.
Carlan said she will continue to advocate for other changes on the Dartmouth campus related to eating disorder awareness. She and Rudnick both tried to convince the administration to light up Dartmouth Hall and the Collis Center in blue and green to celebrate the week, but were both turned down.
Carlan said she wants to host a walk or panel discussion to spark conversation about eating disorders and will continue to host her anti-diet book club to change the narrative around food. She also suggested including “size equity” — as in treating every body type with respect — in diversity training. Rudnick suggested forming a student group against eating disorders as a more permanent source of advocacy.
“[Size equity] should look like breaking down the ways that we discriminate against fat people,” Carlan said. “... If we can be more fat-accepting, we decrease the occurrences of eating disorders and we decrease their length and their chronicity.”