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L SA senior Kylie Miller is a resident
advisor, a member of the Ballroom
Dance Team and has a supportive
group of friends. Miller also suffers from dis-
ordered eating. She has spent up to two dozen
nights sitting in the bathroom for hours at a
time, battling with herself, deciding whether
or not to purge after a binge.
Jenna, an LSA freshman, who asked not to
be identified with her last name, doesn't have
a group of friends in Ann Arbor. She's quiet,
and spends most of her time getting ahead on
homework. Jenna has suffered from anorexia
since she was 14 years old. She currently seeks
the support of a nutritionist and a therapist
twice a week.
I met both students after they performed
at the Body Monologues, a free event hosted
by University Health Service and Body-Peace
Corps once a year that provides a platform
for members of the University community to
share their experiences with their bodies and
the way they view them.
On the evening of Feb. 4, Mendelssohn
Theater, which seats more than 600 people,
was almost at capacity. For two hours, stu-
dents and people in the University commu-
nity shared their experiences with being
bullied about their weight in school, obsessive
thoughts about food, self-harm, abuse and
more. Some performances were humorous,
others raw and emotional. All of the perfor-
mances, however, displayed vulnerability and
openness on the part of speakers, with many
noting that this was their first time sharing
their personal experiences with anyone. The
audience's response ranged from cheers to
gasps to shared tears in the bathroom after
the performance. The diversity of experienc-
es and reactions were vast, but what united
them was the noticeable effect they had on
everyone in attendance. Audience members
and performers alike covered their mouths
in horror at some stories while others elicited
Miller hid her struggles with her weight
and eating habits from her family and friends
until the Body Monologues, when she decid-
ed to publicly share her story. For Jenna, the
Monologues was also her first time admitting
to anyone besides her family that she has suf-
fered from anorexia for upward of four years.
When exploring the climate of eating dis-
orders at the University, there seems to be a
disconnect between the silent dialogue on
those who suffer from eating disorders, com-
pared to the open environment of the Body
Monologues. According to a 2010 survey of
college counselors and other professionals by
the Eating Disorders Recovery Center, there
are numerous reasons why college students
suffering from disordered eating do not seek
treatment. About 28 percent were embar-
rassed to ask for professional help, 48 percent
did not know they had an eating disorder,
and 82 percent were simply unwilling to find
This prompts the question: Why are some
students brave enough to get up on stage and
discuss their struggles on eating with an
audience of strangers, but aren't comfortable
enough to tell their friends and seek out treat-
Just college or cause for concern?
According to an article on MiTalk, an online
mental health resource for 'U' students, an
estimated 25 to 31 percent of students on the
University of Michigan's campus suffer from
disordered eating, which encompasses a wide
range of abnormal eating patterns - such as
over-exercising to compensate for eating too
much, or feeling guilty when eating.
When Miller started college in the fall
of 2010, she was worried about gaining the
Freshman 15, the myth of first-year weight
gain. She started counting every calorie that
went into her body. This habit quickly evolved
into an obsession.
She lost 20 pounds during freshman year,
and her new social network only knew "Kylie-
minus-20-pounds," she said.
"They didn't see me as a cow, like kids in
high school did. But I still thought of myself
as that," Miller said. "There was this weird
disjunction. Even though they were super
supportive in a lot of ways, I didn't talk about
all the really negative self-thoughts."
Miller's friends were also concerned with
eating healthy, too. But this isn't always the
case, especially in college when eating hab-
its are largely determined by social situa-
tions and sobriety level, Andrea Lawson, the
assistant director of Clinical Services at the
Counseling and Psychological Services and
the coordinator of Eating and Body Image
"A lot of challenges surrounding college
students' mental health are discerning what's
an issue and what's cultural, or what's part of
a typical student's life," Lawson said.
For some students, eating an entire pizza at
2 a.m. on a Saturday is normal behavior. Binge
eating disorder is characterized by uncontrol-
lable and excessive eating without a purge,
often leading to being overweight or obesity.
Lawson said those in her profession are cur-
rently seeing many people with binge-eating
disorder, which affects men just as frequently
as it does women.
According to a 2012 survey of 10,000
University of Michigan students, about 20
percent of both men and women are bing-
ing once a week or more.
For people like Miller, who suffers from
a wide range of disordered eating habits,
binge eating results in overwhelming feel-
ings of guilt and self-hatred, prompting
her to turn to purging - forced vomiting.
"One time I ate a whole medium pizza,
and after eating only salads and fruit, you
feel terrible." Miller then described how,
following a binge, she would then contem-
plate for an hour or more whether or not
she should purge.
"For the most part, I've been able to
control it more than I know a lot of people
who struggle with it. I would battle with
myself internally. 'Do it, no, don't do it. Do
it.' Sometimes one would win, sometimes
the other would win," Miller said.
Nearly 10 percent of female students at
the University purge in some way.
"Because (the way I view my body) is an
internal problem, it won't change until I
change it. Things won't actually change
for me until I can change them myself. It's a
cycle of negative self-thought," Miller said.
External factors, such as friends' eating
habits and triggering comments, caused Miller
to internalize her problems with body image
and eating habits.
"My family is amazing and I have a group
of super supportive friends, which I think has
made my experience easier in a lot of ways.
But because it's an internal problem, it won't
change until I change it," she said.
Lawson said she increasingly sees eating dis-
orders that don't fit neatly within the criteria
for anorexia or bulimia. Students who exhibit
symptoms may not be entirely consistent with
defined thresholds of disorders.
In effect, this means that students can have
difficulty recognizing and categorizing their
symptoms, making it even more difficult to seek
A complicated battle
Jenna, on the other hand, cannot identify
specific reasons why she might have developed
an eating disorder at age 14. During the sum-
mer before her sophomore year of high school,
she restricted her diet to fruits and yogurt, and
never once binged or purged.
Her parents took her to rehab and she was
told she would never eat another meal alone
again. The summer before she began college,
she was at her highest weight and excited to
begin her time at college. But, she noted that
being at the University has had a negative effect
on her struggle with anorexia.
Jenna, too, was nervous about the Freshman
15, and small portions in the cafeteria added
stress to the equation.
"If I would go up to get more, (people work-
ing in the cafeteria) would look at me funny and
I would think they were judging me," she said.
Jenna doesn't feel like she's found a group or
community here. Perceived judgment and feel-
ings of isolation dominate her thoughts. Her
family has suggested taking time off of school
"College is not the best when you're strug-
gling with anything. I get pretty lonely which
brings on depression, which brings on bad eat-
ing. It all goes downhill from there."
Jenna is addicted to not eating. She also suf-
fers from anxiety and depression, taking 10
pills everyday to fight various forms of mental
illnesses - not uncommon for those struggling
with an eating disorder. According to a Uni-
versity Study of Habits, Attitudes, and Percep-
tions around Eating survey conducted in 2012,
29 percent of women and 27 percent of men at
the University who screen positive for an eat-
ing disorder also screen positive for depression.
Additionally, 49 percent of women and 31 per-
cent of men who screen positive for an eating
disorder also screen positive for anxiety. This
makes discussing - and treating - eating dis-
orders very difficult.
"With the eating disorder came depression
and anxiety, so it goes from fighting one thing
to fighting many (things), which isn't easy,"
Jenna said. "When my depression is the worst,
my eating is the worst."
While focusing on treating one illness, she
feels like all other challenges have to go on the
back-burner. "You can't really fight everything
Jenna is a self-described perfectionist who
spends most of her time doing her homework
weeks ahead of time.
According to Lawson, this is a trait often
reflected in students at competitive universi-
ties. "Perfectionism is something we see in
students with eating disorders but that's also
something we see with students all around
the University of Michigan," says Lawson.
"There's quite a bit of perfectionism going on,
and I think there's specific attention to social
settings and dynamics when students eat with
Perfectionism is considered a marker of
genetic risk factors for susceptibility to an eat-
ing disorder. Personality traits and mental ill-
nesses such as anxiety and depression can make
it difficult for these students to even articulate
what they're experiencing, let alone seek help.
A (silent) campus conununity
For many incoming students at the University,
fears about gaining the Freshman 15 dominate
Upon arrival to the University, Jena felt this
pressure immediately. "I was really scared about
the Freshman 15 and everyone makes comments
(about calories) when they're in the dining hall,"
A majority of females - and about 30 percent
of males - come to the University worried about
gaining the Freshman 15, according to the 2012
This can oftenlead into extreme calorie count-
ing, a behavior which is amplified in the dining
hall setting. After all, the University of Michi-
gan Student Life and Housing posts all nutrition
labels online, as well as listing them on paper at
the dining hall. This can be both enabling and
helpful for students watching their weight.
For Miller, calorie counts were helpful when
she was dieting. "Depending on the cycle I was
in, calorie countingwasgreat. I could see exactly
what I was putting in my body," she said.
However, they were also a terrifying remind-
er of exactly how many calories she was putting
into her body when she binged.
"Mentally it's tough, it's like 'What did you
just do, you ate 3,000 calories in one sitting?"'
Julie Stocks, a dietitian atthe Nutrition Clinic
at University Health Service, echoed this senti-
"When it comes from a disordered eating lens,
(calorie counts) are a very bad thing," Stocks
said. "I think in and of itself it's harmless, it just
depends what lens youlook at it through. It's our
obligation to keep awareness high, to keep those
Universities like Harvard College removed
index cards detailing nutritional information
in their dining halls after students and parents
raised concerns that clearly-displayed calorie
counts could cause or worsen eating disorders.
The calorie counts are still displayed in kiosks in
the dining halls and online.
What Jenna found surprising at the Universi-
ty of Michigan is the lack of conversation around
the topic. "I wish the University thought more
about what they were doing when they put nutri-
tional facts out there or made their portion sizes
really small. I wish they were more considerate.
(Eating disorders) are not talked about. It could
honestly just incorporate a healthy eating pre-
sentation into orientation."
Body-Peace Corps, a student group on cam-
pus, is currently attempting to combat the wall
of silence around eating disorders. According
to group leaders, the Body-Peace Corps' mis-
sion is to build a community where people can
discuss their body issues, free from stigma and
discrimination. The group offers peer-facilitated
workshops for residence halls and living com-
munities, and also hosts campus events to raise
But even LSA sophomore Brianna Mayer,
Body-Peace Corps executive board member,
acknowledges that the group faces limitations.
"A lot of our events will attract people who
have experiences (with eating disorders) and
know what we're talking about," Mayer said.
"We're having a hard time reaching out to the
general student body that may not have any
knowledge of these issues whatsoever. So I
think the University, Body-Peace Corps, and
other groups need to find a way to reach the gen-
eral student body."
Accordingto the U-SHAPE survey, 51 percent
of students at the University know at least one
student who has eating or body image problems.
The Body Monologues is, in a way, a step
toward recovery for many students. Miller
found telling their story to their friends, family,
and alarge audience, tobe a beneficialundertak-
"I worked through a lot of things as I wrote
my monologue. It was a cathartic experience for
me to come up with the piece," Miller said.
By sharing their internal experiences on eat-
ing with the audience, Body Monologues per-
formers conveyed their vulnerability. This kind
of shared vulnerability is, perhaps, the start of a
much needed, campus-wide conversation.