When dealing with stress and day-to-day struggles, the transition to college can cause many college students, especially college athletes, to develop eating disorders.
Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
Additionally, the prevalence of eating disorders among college students is increasing, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. A 2011 study found that at just one college over a 13-year period from 1995-2008, total eating disorders increased from 23 to 32 percent among females and from 7.9 to 25 percent among males.
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Katherine Meier, a NEDA Walk committee member and a senior studying social work at the University of Wisconsin, said transitioning to college can be a huge trigger for eating disorders.
“It is just a big life change and transition or stressor and all this new stuff comes along with it,” Meier said. “Stress and stuff like that triggers eating disorders often.”
NEDA hosted a walk in Madison in early October dedicated to raising funds and awareness for eating disorder intervention and treatment. More than 250 walkers from the area participated. Paula Riesch, the Madison NEDA Walk chair, said they have raised more than $22,000 so far, beating their original goal of $20,000.
Meier’s work on the committee involves working with donors and sponsors to spread the word about eating disorders and build support within the Madison community. She said all the proceeds go to treatment services since there are currently few options in Madison. She said the closest in-patient location to the UW campus is in Oconomowoc.
Though University Health Services does not offer in-patient treatment options, Meier said they still have plenty of resources. Each student struggling with an eating disorder is matched with a therapist, nutritionist and medical provider as well as psychiatry services if necessary, according to the UHS website.
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These types of service options are especially important since college and high school students — especially athletes — are at a higher risk for eating disorders than the rest of the population, Riesch said.
“[Eating disorders] affect all genders, they affect a wide range of ages and races, but often eating disorders manifest themselves in the high school and college years,” Riesch said.
Riesch said athletes are often at a higher risk of having eating disorders since there is a higher focus on their bodies and their ability to perform physically.
Recently, a Penn State kicker, Joey Julius, opened up about his binge eating disorder on Facebook. Due to his eating disorder he was absent from the football team during spring and summer 2016.
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Before joining the committee, Meier herself participated in the NEDA Walk. She said she had a past with eating disorders and wanted to participate to help other people who might not be in as good of a mental state as herself.
Riesch became interested in learning more about eating disorders after her daughter underwent intense treatment for anorexia. She said most people know very little about them because many people hide their eating disorders due to the negative stigma held against those suffering from them.
“Often the person who is suffering seems to be functioning quite well because they can become very skilled in masking their problem to the point where they are in denial themselves,” Riesch said.
Riesch said in her own community in southern Wisconsin they lost three young people to eating disorders in the last 10 months.
Though it is not an easy process, Riesch said recovery is possible as long as we remove the negative attitudes toward eating disorders so people come forward and receive treatment.
“We want people to reach out if they themselves are having a struggle or someone they care for is struggling,” Riesch said.
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If you think someone might have an eating disorder, Riesch said it is important to investigate. She said some signs might be an obsession with food, visits to the bathroom, unexplained weight loss and picky eating.
Those with eating disorders or who know of family or friends with eating disorders can contact UHS or take the screening test provided by NEDA to find out more information on how to get treatment.