Schultz: eating disorders are 'the second leading cause of death in the mental health field. Opioids are number one.'
UTD’s Student Wellness Center partnered with on-campus and national organizations to host National Eating Disorder Awareness Week at the end of February, reminding Comets that their wellbeing is not dictated by their weight.
The Wellness Center kicked off their in-person events with “Mirrors on the Mall”, which—although moved inside by the weather—saw students writing body-positive messages on their reflections. “Body Positive Yoga” continued the cheer on Wednesday, looking to provide a judgement-free zone for students to relax and meditate at the SSA Gaming Wall.
Thursday brought in the SWC’s national collaborators, via a Teams panel where experts from the Eating Recovery Center spoke on body image, how to spot signs of disordered eating and how to encourage struggling loved ones to seek out help and go through recovery.
At Friday’s closing party, students were invited to Rec Center West to play games, make s’mores and cathartically smash a piñata that guests had filled with negative thoughts about their own self-image.
Psychology sophomore Anisha Holla and biomedical engineering senior Ananya Kumaresh were present at many of the week’s events as SWC Peer Health Educators, responsible for reaching out to fellow students and boosting health awareness through programs like NEDA Week.
“From the time that I’ve been here, it’s been really fun getting to hold these events and…combine fun things like s’mores with awareness for eating disorders, and stuff like that,” Holla said.
Both of them spoke highly of the resources available to students through organizations like the Wellness Center. Additionally, campus partners like the Student Counseling Center and the Center for Students in Recovery provide crucial support to Comets throughout the year.
“The Center for Students in Recovery—which is also one of the partners for this event—they have ‘Nourish,’ an eating disorder support group,” said Kumaresh. “[They’re] facilitating that peer-to-peer interaction, you know, helping peers feel supported… as they work through and they’re going through recovery.”
With college an especially risky time for developing disordered eating—20% to 67% of U.S. students in the U.S. experience subthreshold ED symptoms—supportive programming is key. Student Wellness Center dietician Daniel Schultz works directly with students, as well as on campus-wide programming like NEDA Week, to promote healthy habits and provide support.
“People find it hard to discuss these type of things going around in the world, and this happens to everyone at anyone,” Schultz said. “The goal of the Student Wellness Center is just to bring light to that… to share knowledge without a judgmental focus, without spreading false information.”
Schultz pointed out some myths that needed busting in the public conversation around eating disorders. They don’t just affect women, for example: research shows they’re an increasing problem for college-age men, as well. Furthermore, EDs can come in all shapes and sizes—it’s not “one size fits all” in the disorder field.
“A lot of the students I see…are what you’d say are ‘type A’ perfectionists,” he said. “I really try to tell them, ‘hey, we’re all human’. Go easy. Take your time. Not everything is going to be peaches and cream all the time. Just take breaths, I think that’s the biggest thing, take breaths.”
The Student Counseling Center may refer students to the SWC, housed in SSA 14.270, for specific information and assistance on disordered eating, among other resources.
“We have all sorts of resources—we’re very welcoming! We have a big open space, and we love when students come in and just can chill and hang out. We have puzzles, we have a big TV for them to play games or watch movies on… We have coloring books,” Schultz said. “We’ll have a very open space and non-judgmental space. We hand out condoms for students because sexual education is a huge thing for us to promote here on campus as well.”
Despite the high attendance at NEDA Week’s Friday event, however, asking students in attendance about their thoughts on the subject resulted in more than a few blank stares and questions. Many Comets, while excited about the chance to socialize and receive free food, said they were unaware of either the event’s purpose or the Center’s involvement.
“Before I started working for the Student Wellness Center, I will say I didn’t know about a lot of these resources,” Holla said. “I feel like there does need to be some more outreach from these departments…as a student, I didn’t know that before.”
Even so, the Center remains committed to helping as many students as possible.
“If we can help one student maybe reach out to me, or reach out to another health professional, to seek help with disordered eating or a body image issue, I think that I think that would be the main goal,” Schultz said. “I hope that that’s what this week provides with all the programming we’re doing…even if it can help one person, I think that’s fabulous.”
March is National Nutrition Month. Upcoming SWC events can be found on the Comet Calendar or their website, where students can also schedule one-on-one dietician consultations.