COLUMN: Let’s face it: eating disorders are a harsh reality on college campuses

Gen Z’s exposure to fad diets has led to a national rise in eating disorders across college campuses.

Campbell Biemiller is a first-year journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about political/environmental controversies and entertainment for The Maneater.

The choice of what people eat and how they eat has been influenced by outside factors for decades. Commercials, family members and peers subconsciously create an ideal food culture of what is good or bad from the day we begin to chew solid foods. Having this culture ingrained in us every day can become toxic.

For Gen Z, constant exposure to social media has only made fad diets more popular. Common fad diets include keto, paleo, intermediate fasting and various cleanses. There are two main problems with fad diets. For starters, they are quick and usually last no longer than a month. However, people typically gain back the weight lost during these diets. This can be extremely damaging to one’s self esteem. Additionally, fad diets tend to exclude foods that are healthy, meaning one is more likely to have nutrient deficiencies.

Many celebrities endorse such diets, whether they fully follow the fads or not. Celebrities are highly influential figures and what they portray to their followers will be copied. This is damaging because what is healthy for one person is not always healthy for the next. Gen Z follows pop culture more than any generation prior.

A popular fad is the juice cleanse, which celebrities Miranda Kerr and Jessica Alba have endorsed as a way to quickly lose weight.

“Juicing provides nutrients quickly, however it is not sustainable as a meal,” fitness expert and co-founder of LDNM Max Bridger said.

The change from harmlessly following celebrities to developing an eating disorder isn’t a long process, and the switch is much quicker among young adults. It is difficult to find where fad dieting becomes an eating disorder, making it tough to recognize a serious problem in students’ diets.

There are three eating disorders most commonly discussed across the nation. People with Anorexia Nervosa starve themselves because of body dysmorphic disorder and a fear of gaining weight. Those with Bulimia Nervosa eat large amounts of food without control and purge their systems with self-induced vomiting or abusing laxatives. The final of the three is Binge Eating Disorder (BED), where one regularly overeats and feels a lack of control around food.

While these are all common on college campuses, an informal eating disorder that has come to light in recent years is Orthorexia, which is an obsession with healthy eating. This does not appear unhealthy right off the bat, as everyone should care about what they eat and take care of themselves. However, people with Orthorexia are so fixated on the things they consume that it can damage their body and mental state.

A common stereotype across colleges is gaining the “Freshman 15,” which is a joke to many, but for students with the stated conditions, instills a fear of food greater than what they had before. According to The Recovery Village, over 25% of college students experience symptoms of Orthorexia.

MU plays off the stereotype by saying “Mizzou 22” due to the large assortment of food and restaurants on campus. In one sense, this is beneficial because students can find almost anything they could ever want, as long as it is in the permitted hours. There are also a large number of places off campus that are close enough to walk to.

While individual pressure may be high to restrict one’s diet, MU offers a healthy variety of options throughout campus, so it’s never an impossible walk. In the eyes of those with eating disorders, the variety can be overwhelming. Members of the eating disorder community struggle with self-esteem and feel under the spotlight in public places, which limits all of campus when it comes to eating unless they are alone.

The combination of a larger workload, independence, peers, self-esteem and anxiety creates a hotspot for eating disorders to form. “If you have a heavy dose of anxiety, and you’re in a social environment, and you’re constantly exposed to the thin body ideal, that’s a perfect storm convergence of factors that can drive a vulnerable individual into an eating disorder,” clinical director of the Monte Nido treatment center Dr. Douglas Bunnell said.

Overall, we all need to eat healthy and enjoy the foods we love. The balance of both is what helps the body mentally and physically prosper. The idea of belittling someone because of what they are eating is extremely rude and damaging to someone's sense of self-worth.

The MU Student Health and Wellbeing Center is open, as are national hot lines such as the National Eating Disorders Association, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, among others associated with specific needs. Anyone can reach out to them and is encouraged to do so, no matter the intensity of the eating disorder.

Brave Space Alliance is an organization that understands the importance of finding LGBTQ+ resources for members by members in Chicago, where very few resources and support groups were found prior. We at The Maneater encourage you to donate to this cause. Donations can be made at http://www.bravespacealliance.org/

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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