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Dorris ’15: What’s the skinny on Brown fat?

Opinions Columnist
Sunday, October 14, 2012

I recently Google-searched “Eating Disorders at Brown University,” for an essay for one of my classes. I expected a multitude of clubs, petitions, and campaigns – in typical Brown fashion.

However, the results were astonishing. There are only two Brown websites that even mention eating disorders. One is a Psychological Services link called, “When a Friend Has an Eating Disorder” – a laughably hypothetical title for such a serious illness.

The other is the Brown Health Education website which lists definitions for various eating disorders – available anywhere on the Internet – and two health services numbers students can call, one of which is just the main office number.

There is also a “resources” page, which includes a plethora of vegetarian nutrition sites and even a website that provides you with up-to-date warnings on how unsafe your soybeans are – probably a great place for potential vegetarian anorexics to decide to stop eating.

Frankly, I was severely disappointed. I was surprised at how cold and impersonal the websites were, but don’t see much support around campus either. Occasionally I’ll find small, feeble attempts sponsored by Brown Health Education, a poster that says, “Freshman 15 is a Myth,” a tiny flyer in the corner of an overstuffed bulletin board reading, “Feel tired? Don’t forget to eat a snack!”

Just trying to read the print made me feel tired. And unfortunately, I had no snack.

These posters show that the university is aware of the issue, but isn’t doing much about it. And this should bother us. According to National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 91% of female students recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to manage their weights by restricting calories. 25% percent of female college students engage in bingeing and purging. 80% of American women do not like the way they look.

Just look around campus. Go to a party. Sit in the Blue Room. This is not new. I just don’t know why the university isn’t fighting it more aggressively.

The eating disorder awareness program at Brown is abysmal – or just missing. It’s a black and white issue. Students assume that if they aren’t covered in lanugo hair and don’t slip into size 00 jeans, then they must be healthy.

We aren’t informed about unhealthy behaviors that aren’t so clear-cut, like disordered eating. According to NEDA, “disordered eating” includes behaviors like frequent dieting, irregular eating patterns and ignored hunger signals – behaviors that may seem normal, but still fall under the category of an “eating disorder otherwise not specified.” This type of diagnosis is far more common than Anorexia or Bulimia, and according to a recent study, the mortality rate is just as high.

Forget the labels. At Brown I see a trend of just general undereating – skipping breakfast and lunch on the weekends and only eating dinner, eating a Chobani yogurt for breakfast and half a salad for lunch, following the new craze of swapping meals for smoothies. Educators fail to inform students that simply undereating for long periods of time can be just as dangerous as being anorexic.

Here’s a list of ways your body is permanently damaged just by habitual undernourishment: You develop a significantly higher miscarriage rate. You may become anemic. You may stop getting your period and become infertile. Your bones will stop strengthening and might actually atrophy. You are at risk for stress fractures and early onset osteoporosis. Your heart may weaken. You may literally get dumber from changes in cognitive function. And your metabolism could become irreversibly damaged, making it nearly impossible to lose weight in the future.

But why isn’t anyone telling us this?

It surprises me that Brown – which is so progressive in other ways – can be so hands-off when it comes to treating and preventing eating disorders. We participate in so many movements for different things all around the world – poverty, hunger, environmental awareness, homelessness – yet for some reason Brown turns its nose up on all the students who are starving themselves right on College Hill.

There are many things Brown could do: just spread the word. Instead of so many SexPowerGod posters displaying toned and thin bodies, why not create more posters informing students about undereating? Why not host lectures and bring in popular speakers? Why not introduce student-run campaigns? If Brown stressed healthy food relationships as strongly as they did sexual freedom, I’m sure there would be lower prevalence of eating disorders on campus.

Anorexia, bulimia, disordered eating – does it really matter? This is an untreated epidemic. Everyday I see some of the smartest women in the world agonize over fitting into size two pants. I see women write books, create start-ups, do extensive research in foreign places, yet their shining moment is wearing a crop top to a party and showing off their vanishing waists.

According to the ANAD, Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. 20% of sufferers will not survive. The rest may suffer irreversible bodily damage.

Brown may hope this issue just disappears, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fight it ourselves. These are the lives of our future colleagues, peers, family and friends. If we ever unite together on anything, let it be now.


Cara Dorris 15′ can be reached at cara_dorris@brown.eduor @CaraDorris


Editors Note: The article that appeared in the print edition was slightly different than this one. The print edition contained an unfinished version of the final article

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