Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

New Eating Disorder Support Group Fills Much-Needed Gap

With help from Active Minds, Whitman’s mental health advocacy club, some students have started the first confidential eating disorder support group on campus this semester. Student-initiated and student-run, the eating disorder support group aims to give crucial help to Whitman students recovering from eating disorders.

Founders originally wanted to start a support group with a professional facilitator from either the Counseling Center or the Walla Walla community, but no such help was available, so the students decided to lead the group themselves. Founders hope the support group will provide a way to for students to hold each other accountable through their recovery at Whitman and provide a space for students to talk openly about their eating disorder where others can empathize with their struggles.

The support group is meant to serve students who are already in the process of recovery. Founders emphasized that the group is not meant to replace therapy or other treatment, but merely to supplement it.

“I want people to come, but I don’t want them to come thinking that it’s a replacement for other care … we don’t have a health professional,” said first-year Sarah Ramirez, a member of the support group.*

Discussions about eating disorders with friends and peers can be difficult because of misunderstandings about this unique form of mental illness and because of stigma associated with it.

“Everyone knows someone [with an eating disorder],” said junior Sarah Glass, a leader of Active Minds and one of the eating disorder support group founders and facilitators.

But this doesn’t mean everyone understands eating disorders or is able to have an open conversation about experiences with them. Eating disorders manifest themselves very differently in each individual. It might take a while for someone to realize they even have an eating disorder. Eating disorder stereotypes evoke images of a white teenage girl whose weight worries have gone too far. But this stereotype is far from the reality of many people suffering from an eating disorder.  In fact, students emphasized that eating disorders are usually not about weight at all.

“It’s not about food .… It’s a way for you to control your life,” said sophomore Kristen Wiseman, who is a leader of Active Minds and helped start the eating disorder support group.

Junior Sophia De Arment, one of the support group founders and facilitators, agreed with Wiseman.

“Eating disorders happen when men and women struggle with not feeling like they have control in an out-of-control world. Food just happens to be the outlet,” she said.

In fact, De Arment explained that eating disorders are often co-occurring, which means that eating disorders often occur at the same time an individual is battling other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, OCD or PTSD.

Misunderstandings about eating disorders have created stigma for those who suffer from one, another reason why the support group is so important for students.

“It’s shameful,” said De Arment. “You don’t want to tell people …. With a support group, you’re going to have a group of people that understands. And you can talk about anything without fear of being judged. And that’s … something that we need.”

Having a group of people that empathize can go a long way in helping someone in their recovery.

“I think a lot of people don’t know what it feels like to have an eating disorder,” said Ramirez, who first sought treatment for an eating disorder during her sophomore of high school.

Ramirez compared having an eating disorder to being trapped in a glass box. She could see everyone around her eating normally and she was aware that her eating was irregular. She wanted to get out of the box, but she felt trapped.

“Support groups and therapy break down those barriers,” said Ramirez.

Another barrier to recovery can be Whitman’s own campus culture, which promotes healthy eating and exercise, along with Whitties’ reputation for being particularly happy.

“I think being labeled one of the happiest campuses in the nation is a good thing, but it also makes it less likely for people to come forward and say ‘I’m actually struggling with something serious. I do need help from the Counseling Center.’ It keeps us from talking about the real issues that a lot of students are facing under the stress of academics and jam-packed schedules,” said Wiseman.

Ramirez struggled with her health during her first semester at Whitman.

“Living in an all-girls section … is really hard because everyone is always critiquing themselves against each other … That’s really hard to be a part of when I spent so many years of my life critiquing myself so severely that it got to a point where I was really sick.”

Ramirez even thought about leaving Whitman.

“Everyone seemed to love it so much. Why wasn’t I loving it as much as everyone else?” said Ramirez.

Still, Ramirez decided to stay and has felt much better this semester. She hopes the support group will help her keep on-track with her recovery while at Whitman, especially since there is such high demand at the Counseling Center, where Ramirez was unable to make an appointment until the end of the semester last fall.

Students recovering from an eating disorder emphasized that it is a life-long bumpy process.

“Recovery is not just a destination,” said Glass.

The eating disorder support group is meant to serve any student at any point in their recovery.

The support group meets weekly in the GAC, and De Arment and Glass facilitate discussions and activities. De Arment has had experience leading support groups before and strongly believes in the power of these groups.

“In moderating such groups, I’ve always been blow away by the wisdom that comes from peers,” said De Arment.

Students interested in the group can email De Arment ([email protected]) or Glass ([email protected]) for more information about the support group.

*Name has been changed.

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