Student shines a light on National Eating Disorder Awareness week

National+Eating+Disorder+Awareness+Week+takes+place+from+February+21-27+in+2022%2C+leading+many+to+come+out+with+their+struggles+and+stories.+One+Redhawk+on+campus+has+decided+to+hers+with+Wingspan.+%0A%0AI+would+eat+full+meals+at+school+and+when+out+with+my+friends+and+family%2C+and+then+punish+myself+for+the+calories+by+skipping+more+meals+and+limiting+myself+further.+I+didn%E2%80%99t+look+%E2%80%98sick%E2%80%99+and+I+wasn%E2%80%99t+losing+lots+of+weight%2C+which+I+was+angry+at+myself+for.%E2%80%9D

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National Eating Disorder Awareness Week takes place from February 21-27 in 2022, leading many to come out with their struggles and stories. One Redhawk on campus has decided to hers with Wingspan. “I would eat full meals at school and when out with my friends and family, and then punish myself for the calories by skipping more meals and limiting myself further. I didn’t look ‘sick’ and I wasn’t losing lots of weight, which I was angry at myself for.”

By Rachel Kim and Rishika Desai

“I had developed this obsession with trying to be skinny. I was obsessed with the number on the scale, the number around my waist, the number on the nutrition label,” junior Carol Olamit* said. “I was obsessed with the empty feeling in my stomach because I took it as a sign that the dieting was working, that I would finally be skinny and pretty.”

Preoccupations with food, weight, and shape prey on the minds and lives of millions of adolescents nationwide including Olamit. In fact, at least 30 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. 

Young kids are extremely impressionable, and so I grew up with the toxic mindset that I had to be skinny in order to be pretty,”

— junior Carol Olamit*

To help combat this, the National Eating Disorders Association launched National Eating Disorders Awareness Week that comes to an end on Sunday. 

Growing up and living in a culture focused on the ideals of thinness and beauty, Olamit began to feel the pressure to reflect on her appearance in order to satisfy the expectations of society as she grew up with a mom obsessed with bathroom scales and new dieting techniques. 

“I grew up in a country where being petite was the norm. There was so much pressure from society to be small and skinny, because we viewed beauty in terms of how thin your body was,” Carol’s mom said. “Eventually those beliefs became a part of my everyday life and affected how I viewed myself and my actions. Even after I moved to America and immersed myself into a new culture, those ideals persisted.”

Through her mother’s influence, Olamit’s impression of her body has been negatively affected. 

“I would hear her constantly talking about losing weight, trying to be as skinny as possible, and how she would be so much more beautiful if she could just shed a few more pounds,” Olamit said. “Young kids are extremely impressionable, and so I grew up with the toxic mindset that I had to be skinny in order to be pretty.”

However, Olamit is not the only person influenced by society’s standard of beauty and perfection as an approximate 7 out of 10 teenagers reported a decline in body confidence and increase in anxiety regarding their appearance.

And, especially with the growing use of social media, body image concerns and distress continuously arise in the minds of many of the youth.       

“Social media can be a big factor in how individuals think about their body,” campus nurse Lindsey McDavid said. “As individuals scroll through Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media platforms, they are bombarded with photos of people that they may perceive look thinner or better than them. Filters that change the way people really look may be fun, but can also be damaging to self-esteem.”

Because of the constant exposure to images and comparisons online, Olamit was repeatedly burdened with the ideas and norms of the public. 

“Being on social media was like being in an echo chamber full of extremely self-conscious young girls who encouraged unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle choices,” Olamit said. “If you weren’t constantly losing weight, you were fat and ugly, and the girls with bones poking through their skin were the ones who were put on a pedestal and lauded as the most beautiful girls,”

But regardless of the triggers and prevalence of eating disorders, these psychological conditions characterized by abnormal eating habits are often misunderstood, ignored, and hidden. 

“I was excellent at hiding it,” Olamit said. “I would eat full meals at school and when out with my friends and family, and then punish myself for the calories by skipping more meals and limiting myself further. I didn’t look ‘sick’ and I wasn’t losing lots of weight, which I was angry at myself for.”

Despite her anger and frustration, Olamit began to notice the spiraling damages prompted by her eating behaviors and habits.  

“My depression worsened, and with the weakening of my mental health, my physical well-being weakened too,” Olamit said. “My hair became brittle and prone to breakage, and I was tired, frustrated, and irritated all the time. I was nauseous and my stomach hurt a lot.”

As she struggled with the physical and psychological effects of her eating disorder, Olamit gradually came to realize the importance of seeking help

The healing process takes time. It’s a journey full of ups and downs.”

— Olamit*

“One day, I think I just broke down. I realized that I didn’t want to keep living if I had to keep living like this,” Olamit said. “Slowly, I came to terms with reality and ended up telling a few friends about what I had been going through. My support system helped me through so much, and eventually, I started going to therapy, which was the greatest thing to ever happen to me.”

Even so, she understands that she will continue to struggle with her body image and perception of food as the journey to recovery is a slow and rocky process. 

“I downloaded a calorie tracking app again in late 2021. I used it for about a month until I realized, ‘what was I doing?,’’’ Olamit said. “I’m far better now than I was a few years back, but the healing process takes time. It’s a journey full of ups and downs.”

Olamit hopes that those suffering from an eating disorder not only recognize the importance of self-acceptance and confidence, but also to find help when needed. 

“There’s this one quote that circulated around social media a lot when I was younger: ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.’ And for so long, that was my mantra,” she said. “But I lived, and I learned, and there are so many things that taste better than skinny feels. Please don’t fall down the rabbit hole of eating disorders. Help is always available.” 

* to protect the identity of the student, Carol Olamit is a pseudonym

This story was originally published on Wingspan on February 25, 2022.