Free program offers help for eating disorders, body image

The survey will be offered through the Student Health Center.

College is one of the major transitions after puberty that can trigger unhealthy body image.

Researchers at Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis have developed the Healthy Body Image Program as a way to help college students gain feedback on their habits and self-image and get help if necessary.

“There’s a whole spectrum of eating disorders,” said Ellen Fitzsimmons-Craft, one of the postdoctoral fellows working on the program at Washington University. “Some people might be on one end or the other, but most people fall somewhere in between.”

At MU, the Healthy Body Image program is called BodyU, and is offered out of the Student Health Center. Any undergraduate or graduate student can follow the link at BodyU to the Healthy Body Initiative and take the free survey.

To participate, students complete a brief online survey that determines the risk of unhealthy habits or eating disorders. Based on the student’s answers, the program offers several different self-improvement tools to encourage positive body image, good nutrition and healthy eating. The survey can be found here

Grace Monterubio, a doctoral student from Washington University working with the program, said the program is not just for students who think they have disordered thinking. She and Fitzsimmons-Craft said they would like healthy students to also take the survey, so the program can encourage and reinforce existing positive behaviors.

“Ideally, we’d like to screen everyone on a college campus,” Monterubio said. “Then the program could help those who are doing well and those who could use some additional support, and reinforce staying healthy in a college environment.”

Monterubio and Fitzsimmons-Craft both became interested in eating disorders and body image issues while in college.

“I saw how common and detrimental negative thoughts were for my peers,” Monterubio said. “I got really interested in body positivity, and wanted to promote overall health and wellness for everyone.”

Fitzsimmons-Craft said she was discouraged by common fears and negative thoughts about food and bodies among her friends and classmates in college.

“It was really sad to me how normative that was,” Fitzsimmons-Craft said. “I became really excited by the chance to change the culture of health, from a culture of poor body image and negativity, into something healthier for everyone.”

Fitzsimmons-Craft explained that it’s important for every person to have an understanding of their own body image, eating and exercise, which makes it easier to maintain that health.

“In college, when your whole environment changes and you’re not living with your family and you’re not around your old friends — when everything changes like that, it can be hard to know if what you’re eating or doing is normal,” she said.

Fitzsimmons-Craft said she hopes to expand the program to more campuses and schools. For now, she encourages every MU student to take the survey.

“I think we can offer every person something helpful and something that will make them feel better,” she said. “Plus, it’s free. Why not take it?”

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