Maddie, an art student at Temple University, says one symptom of her eating disorder is restricting food to only certain times of day.
“But with my new schedule, I can’t do that,” she said. “How can I explain something like that?”
Like roughly 35% of college students, Maddie faces a daily struggle with disordered eating. Tomorrow begins National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and Temple University will host several online events, including a recovery art exhibit. Research shows academic and social stress can trigger students to seek unhealthy comfort and control.
“It can completely take over my life some days,” Maddie said. “You don’t really want to go up to your professors and say that you have an eating disorder.”
Janie Egan, MPH, CHES says the week’s events were organized to point students toward resources at Temple’s Wellness Center, like a registered dietician and virtual counseling, and change social misconceptions about eating disorders and who they impact.
“We tend to think about eating disorders as only happening to a certain kind of person,” Egan said. “But we know they affect people of all races, ethnicities, genders, body size. We need folks in larger bodies and people of color to get the help they need.”
Taylor, a global studies major, says being Black has made it difficult for her to be open about her disorder and seek help.
“I don’t fit the type of a thin white girl trying to lose too much weight,” Taylor said. “It took a long time to even accept that my problems were actually an eating disorder. But I knew I was thinking about food way more than anyone I knew on campus and it was becoming an obsession that I still can’t get away from.”
Egan says she hopes the art presentation Tuesday will help students understand that eating disorders have little to do with physical appearance.
“Art therapy can illustrate the wide range of experiences people have,” she said.
“The Art of Recovery” features anonymous works created at The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia, an inpatient treatment facility for women with severe anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders.
“In the eating disorder, food and the body become a way of speaking,” says Mindy Jacobson-Levy, MCAT, a licensed art therapist and co-author of an art journaling workbook for people suffering with disordered eating.
“Art opens the door to insights that you cannot put into language and might not come out in a linear way,” Jacobson-Levy says. “We can let it out, look at it, acknowledge it, and work through or around it.”
Mackenzie, who’s in high school, will log onto The Art of Recovery with her sister, Jen, a Temple student struggling with an eating disorder since the two were in elementary school.
“I still don’t really understand, but I want to help her,” Mackenzie said. “I’m really glad she told me about this because the eating disorder tends to cause a lot of problems between us. Maybe if I see someone else’s experiences, it will at least be something different.”