Body-Peace Corps raises eating disorder awareness

By Emily Kastl, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 19, 2012

Despite the prevalence of eating disorders on college campuses, open discussions of them are often taboo, forcing students to fight them in silence.

To foster increased conversation on the issue, the Body-Peace Corps, a student organization established in February 2010, is expanding the National Eating Disorders Association’s Awareness Week to a month-long series of events on campus that promote discussion and eliminate stigmas surrounding eating disorders and body image issues.

Upon her arrival to the University in 2009, Kellie Carbone, faculty advisor of Body-Peace Corps and health educator at University Health Service, noticed that students with eating disorders didn’t have sufficient access to peer support.

“It became clear to me pretty quickly that (students) were not getting their needs met,” Carbone said.

Carbone said one of the main goals of the Body-Peace Corps is to raise awareness about the prevalence of eating disorders on campus.

“On most college campuses, the rates of eating disorders are double that of the general population,” Carbone said. “On our campus, it’s close to one in four students (who) have a diagnosable eating disorder.”

Another major focus of the organization is improving media literacy of body image among students that are swarmed with depictions of ideal body shapes on popular television programs and in magazines.

“What I find is a lot of students come to campus having seen MTV’s Spring Break ... all these commercials and all these television shows that give you this one-size-fits-all image of what a college experience is supposed to look like and what beauty is supposed to look like,” Carbone said.

Carbon said the goal of the Body-Peace Corps is to arm students with the ability to recognize the media’s “thin ideal” as unrealistic and help them realize that individuals don’t have to be in perfect form in order to be healthy.

As part of its Eating Disorder Awareness Month, the organization sponsored the Love Your Body Fair last Tuesday in the Michigan Union. Students enjoyed free food, Valentine’s Day giveaways, henna art, massages and a space for discussion regarding disorders.

“We’re really wanting to change the dialogue,” Carbone said.

LSA junior Jessica Harper, outreach coordinator for the organization, echoed Carbone’s emphasis on the importance of discussion.

“We can’t make a change without starting the conversation first,” Harper said.

Along with the Love Your Body Fair, the Body-Peace Corps has sponsored events throughout February such as movie screenings and yoga, Tai Chi and informational workshops. This fall, it plans to team up with the National Eating Disorders Association and hold a NEDA Walk to raise money and increase awareness.

At an event held at UHS on Thursday, UHS dietician Julie Stocks spoke to about eight students regarding mindful eating. Stocks encouraged students to completely “unplug” while eating, listen to natural hunger signals and interact with food using all five senses.

By doing so, she said students will be able to better separate their physical and emotional relationships with food, ultimately leading to a better and healthy understanding of food as fuel for the body.

In an interview after the event, Stocks said she attributes the cause of eating disorders among college students to a combination of things.

“We know that the comorbids of high anxiety and some other mental health struggles already exist,” Stocks said. “Then you add the pressure cooker of college, and it might be just enough to flip a switch to have the ‘I need to control something’ slip over into eating.”

Rackham student Veronica Rabelo said she came to the event to learn more about mindful eating.

“It can be hard to find that work-life balance,” she said. “Mindfulness is a powerful thing anyone can learn.”