Eating disorders, carrying the highest death rate out of any known type of mental disorder, affect 20 percent of college students nationwide and have a 13.1 percent mortality rate, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Veritas Collaborative, a specialty hospital for the treatment of eating disorders, teamed up with Southern Smash to bring a scale smashing event to the College of William and Mary campus April 12.
Clinical and staff psychologist at the College Colleen Reichmann said the event was hosted in order to bring awareness to eating disorders on campus.
The whole idea was just to kind of build awareness about eating disorders, body image on campus,” Reichmann said. “We were thinking that maybe there wasn’t a lot of talk, open conversation about eating disorders on campus so we thought this was a really loud, kind of brave, in your face way to just start the conversation.”
“The whole idea was just to kind of build awareness about eating disorders, body image on campus,” Reichmann said. “We were thinking that maybe there wasn’t a lot of talk, open conversation about eating disorders on campus so we thought this was a really loud, kind of brave, in your face way to just start the conversation.”
Southern Smash is named for its signature scale-smashing event. The non-profit provides college campuses with scales, and students smash them in order to raise awareness about eating disorders. The College’s event attracted a wide variety of students, as well as members from local organizations that are part of the fight against these disorders.
A partner with Stay Strong Virginia Beth Ayn Stabs came from Richmond, Virginia in order to support the scale-smashing event.
“What we do is raise awareness and educate and get individuals that are impacted by an eating disorder connected with resources … to raise awareness not just about eating disorders, but I think everyone’s general relationship with food because we become a little obsessed and its hard to fully engage in life when you’re thinking about numbers and size and portions” Stabs said.
In the evening after the scale smashing, Reichmann hosted a panel with eating disorder experts and survivors. The panel discussed treatment methods for eating disorders and their prevalence on college campuses.
A notable takeaway from the panel was the notion that eating disorders are blind — they affect people of all different ethnicities and sexualities.
Alex Winkowski ’17 battled an eating disorder during their first years on campus, and they said they were surprised by the diversity that they encountered in their first treatment group.
“When I walked in the room the first day I noticed that this was not a room filled with what people would think people with eating disorders looklike at all,” Winkowski said. “Walk in, there were queer black women in there, there were Muslim women, there were gay men, there were straight men, there were the cis-gender white women.”
Winkowski said that conquering eating disorders could not be accomplished by simply targeting one population.
“They were all different body types, and you know when I walked into that room, I realized that eating disorders don’t discriminate,” Winkowski said. “This is not something that we can just tackle by targeting one population; it has to be very holistic.”
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 42 percent of men who have eating disorders identify as gay and are seven times more likely to binge eat. In a different study, African-American females consistently scored higher on Eating Disorder Inventory scales than white females.
Executive Director of Virginia Veritas Collaborative Elisha Contner Wilkins said she has encountered professionals who also misunderstood the reach of eating disorders.
“I first was getting into treating eating disorders in the late ’90’s, early 2000s, and I was working at a place in Florida … and I remember the clinical director said to me, ‘Well I don’t understand why you’re getting into eating disorders because you know that’s just a rich white girl’s disease,’” Wilkins said. “I was like, ‘Eating disorders don’t discriminate.’ The other important thing about eating disorders as well is that we don’t treat eating disorders in isolation.”
Winkowski agreed, saying that when they returned from treatment they joined a campus fraternity and their brothers have been imperative to their ongoing recovery.
“I think the biggest factor in my recovery was having a support system and having people who were willing to hold me accountable for eating and for having a healthy relationship with food,” Winkowski said.
According to the earlier study, members of the gay community were better able to avoid eating disorders if they felt connected to their peers.
However, Winkowski said that even in an environment as accepting as the trans community, there are still standards as to what the ideal body should look like.
Me as someone who’s gender fluid, you would think like okay well they’re non-binary so then they shouldn’t have to conform to either standard, and that is just incorrect and its really interesting because I feel like I’m pulled in both directions,” Winkowski said. “It’s really upsetting that in a community that is supposed to be so inviting and so inclusive that there is this kind of divide, and there’s this idea of what a trans person should look like, and it’s really interesting, and I’m still kind of navigating it.”
“Me as someone who’s gender fluid, you would think like okay well they’re non-binary so then they shouldn’t have to conform to either standard, and that is just incorrect and its really interesting because I feel like I’m pulled in both directions,” Winkowski said. “It’s really upsetting that in a community that is supposed to be so inviting and so inclusive that there is this kind of divide, and there’s this idea of what a trans person should look like, and it’s really interesting, and I’m still kind of navigating it.”
Samantha Nichols ’18 also battled an eating disorder and presented her journey during the panel as a story entitled “Two Mirrors and a Mountain.” She ended her story by saying she was grateful for the lessons her eating disorder taught her, and she is ready to raise awareness for the fight against what had previously consumed her life.
“Overall, the emotions I feel now are stronger, more colorful and propel me to do greater things than my eating disorder ever believed I could,” Nichols said. “So, this is not to say I am grateful for eating disorders, I hate them and I think they belong in the deepest level of hell, this is instead to say that I’ve climbed a lot of mountains and I want to talk about it.”