In high school, I loved playing sports and being active. Junior year I started noticing something odd going on with myself. I was trying to be the best athlete I could be, but in doing that, I was slowly eating less. It was almost like a competition, “Oh, I didn’t eat today and got my PR in the mile.” I didn’t see anything wrong with it, and my coaches almost encouraged it because I was improving. They didn’t know the harmful things I was doing to get those times. Senior year I snapped back to reality and fully recovered. The thought of going back to my eating disorder still haunts me.
When going into college, I was so excited for the endless possibilities of healthy foods I could enjoy. When I arrived, I was shocked at what I saw: food options that weren’t accommodative to people who had allergies, and more pizza and desserts than I’ve ever seen. The eating disorder I eradicated was now in the back of my mind, questioning the foods I was choosing and if they were healthy. Nonetheless, I ignored it.
Others’ thoughts were starting to come out in conversations. I would hear friends say, “Oh, I ate pizza and fries at the dining hall because that’s all they had, so I’m going to skip dinner.” Was this normal? It didn’t seem reasonable.
With the topic of eating and the lack thereof coming up in conversations, I started thinking, what is UT doing about it? I found that 10-20% of females and 4-10% of males suffer from an eating disorder in college at UT — that’s 2,971 of our female students and 1,404 male students.
With a Google search of “eating disorders UTK,” what comes up is Be Well National Eating Disorder Awareness. Click on it, and it’s about two paragraphs of what seems like a week-long campaign from 2017 to spread awareness about eating disorders. That’s it, but there was a link to a Be Well resource page. I investigated more.
Now, I am no doctor or professional on the topic of eating disorders. Still, if I was inquiring for more information and resources because I thought I had an eating disorder and I saw what was on Be Well, I would’ve gotten upset. It says “Nutrition, Start Today” and has five tips on how to accomplish that; they were useful tips but had nothing to do with eating disorders like advertised on the original page.
Since Be Well didn’t have to do with eating disorders I went back to my initial search and ended up on UT’s Center for Health Education and Wellness website. There were links to a variety of sources for many different problems like alcohol abuse to sleep issues. The second to last link was to the National Eating Disorders Association website, which has many useful resources on the topic. Although more helpful than Be Well, I still never found any useful resources specifically from UT for eating disorders.
I found this to be an issue — a school having more than 25,000 undergraduates doesn’t have any resources to help?
I researched some solutions. What could I do to help my university and my fellow volunteers? I found a medical study published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health about an eating disorder screening program for college students. The program puts people into categories based on how at risk of an eating disorder they are at and then, depending on the category you fall into, sets up a treatment plan.
Three of the categories recommend online treatment shown to reduce symptoms by 50% after mild intervention. The others that didn’t recommend online treatment were for if you tested positive for having a clinical eating disorder. These recommended an evaluation by a healthcare professional. By bringing this program to UT, it could be a cost-effective way to help students who are suffering.
Having a screening program here could save someone’s life. If this resource was something I had in high school, I wouldn’t have suffered years of being worried about every bite of food entering my body and every calorie I burned. I could’ve had my life back and enjoyed my high school years. I don’t want others to feel the way I felt and have their college years robbed from them. As volunteers, we need to stop this issue together.
Natalie Olson is a freshman in business exploratory studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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