In the presence of an ostensibly beautiful campus population, it’s tough for the girls who feel a little under par. After all, not every lady stag can be Barstool Sports’ “Smokeshow of the Day.”

You know the reasons for the low self-esteem that burdens the female population at Fairfield: Academic stress. Body image pressures. Competition. The clichéd “freshman fifteen.”

They often cause some students, especially women, to fall into unhealthy eating habits, like anorexia and bulimia. But the extent of the problem at Fairfield and elsewhere is a real eye opener to some students.

“I have met more girls at Fairfield alone than ever before in my life that have issues with eating,” said Allie Cavalea ‘13. “Whether it be serious disorders or just compulsiveness about what they’re eating and who sees it, I think living in a community full of hundreds of peers at all times puts an extreme amount of pressure on individuals to be thin.”

Elise Harrison of Fairfield’s Counseling and Psychological Services cited that national statistics estimate 5-20 per cent of college women suffer from eating disorders.

Meanwhile, 90 percent of college women engage in dieting behavior, says a 2009 University of California at Los Angeles study.

And while Harrison couldn’t provide us with an idea of what the typical Fairfield girl suffering from an eating disorder might look like or be like, we can generalize.

College students are at high risk- we’re largely competitive perfectionists, self-conscious, hard working, and high standard holding students who are stressed out and partied out.

Combine all these personality traits with Fairfield’s shallow expectations and unrealistic body image, and it’s hardly a surprise that throngs of girls on campus are suffering from disorderly eating.

One Fairfield sophomore who requested to remain unnamed weighed in on eating disorders such as her own here on campus.

“I believe my eating disorder, which I developed in high school, was started by stress as well as a new environment that I had no control over,” she said. “But I think that eating disorders generally increase on college campuses in the first place because there is a constant pressure to be perfect and to be better than all the other beautiful girls.”

She explains the daily struggles, then and now.

“While struggling with an eating disorder in high school, my life had to change dramatically. I was not able to participate in certain athletic events like I used to,” she said. “I specifically remember not being able to play hockey because I would not have the energy or ability to skate anymore. These days, there are times when I’ll just be sitting in class feeling as I am going to faint any second.”

She paused.

“It also doesn’t help when it comes time to drink.”

Studies have shown that the binge drinking culture that drowns campuses can be an important factor in influencing and hosting eating disorders.

“Eating disorders and alcohol abuse have some common qualities,” said Elise Harrison, “Both are diseases of denial. In general, alcohol may become more of an issue for people who are restricting their eating because they become intoxicated more quickly and may have more issues with physical problems with drinking.”

“People suffering with Bulimia Nervosa may have a tendency to drink more and may have a co-occurrence of both issues.” Ms. Harrison added.

Is that to say that the stress and body image ideals of Fairfield University are yielding a new culture of “drunkorexics”?

Possibly, said Cavalea.

“I really think that binge drinking and eating disorders are ways for people to deal with their stress,” she said. “I assume that both eating disorders and binge drinking help you avoid facing the truth, whether you’re not doing well in school, or to escape the reality of the way you look or feel, or even to change the way other people see you.”

The bottom line is that eating disorders are a big deal, on campus or off.

Over the average lifetime, says the Columbia University article, approximately 50,000 people will die as a direct effect of an eating disorder, and thousands of others will struggle with lifelong health consequences.

Colleges need to allow their campus population to thrive without binging, purging, or starving themselves in an effort to be the next Smokeshow.

Unfortunately though, some students don’t see Fairfield making that effort just yet.

I do not think that the administration does anything about body image or eating disorders,” said Shannon Welch ‘12.  “I think that high schools focus more on body image than colleges like Fairfield because they are too concerned about the drinking, drugs, and mischief that occur on campus.”

Other universities might be dealing with eating disorders better.

At Penn State, said Megan Hume ‘13, “I see signs and posters everywhere that have advice lines and numbers to call if you are struggling.”

A Boston University article cited a club on campus called Helping Hands that focuses on eating disorder education and awareness.  They sold bracelets last February to spread knowledge of the growing epidemic.

Harrison described Fairfield’s approach.

“Eating disorder treatment requires a three part treatment,” said Elise Harrison. “Students need to attend to the physical, emotional and nutritional difficulties of an eating disorder. … The Health Center works with students to check physical symptoms and do weigh in’s when necessary.  The Counseling office deals with the emotional issues related to an eating disorder.”

She adds, “The therapist from the Counseling office may make a referral to a specialist in eating disorders in the nearby community who will provide specialized treatment, but eating disorders often require long term therapy and more frequent appointments to help a person overcome the eating disorder.”

So is Fairfield’s approach working?

“Not at all,” said Kira Driver ‘14. “They don’t publicize that there is help for people who are suffering at all.”

Rachael Chase ’13 shared these sentiments.

“There may be hidden groups for eating disorder victims or something, but I have never heard it being openly addressed,” she said.

“I don’t think that Fairfield is blind to it,” contested Cavalea. “But I don’t feel they do a ton to address the growing issues of eating disorders on campus. I know that regardless, there will still be the issue of body image and self-esteem that is ever present in the community here.”

If you think you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, don’t stay silent. Call the Counseling and Psychological services at Fairfield at (203) 245-4000 ext. 2146.

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