Students cope with eating disorders, anxiety

Katie Pulvermacher, News Editor

Dealing with an eating disorder

“To me, an eating disorder looks like self-loathing no matter what you put in your body, whether it was healthy to eat or not,” 22-year-old Nicole said.

Nicole said she has dealt with an eating disorder for 12 years since she was about 10. It is a constant battle with her mind because as much as she feels the need to eat something, her mind will say no.

“It wasn’t like one or two [family] members [who commented on my weight], it was closer to like 15 to 20 people who continuously made nasty comments and remarks,” Nicole said. “I have now cut off contact with all of the family members who made me feel like this and am trying to surround myself with positive people.”

To try to overcome her eating disorder, she said she tries to reach out to friends and family members who will listen and talk. Nicole was hospitalized a few years ago because of how severe her eating disorder got.

“As someone who is 5’7″ I actually ended up weighing less than 100 pounds and it was really bad,” she said. “I also have therapy sessions twice a week to try and come to some kind of understanding.”

Nicole wants to let anyone who is struggling or fighting an eating disorder know that they are not alone.

“There are so many other people who are going through the same thing,” she said. “If you reach out to a trusted friend or family member, you might inspire them to talk about their issues, and then others can get help as well.”

Dealing with anxiety and stress

Katie Pulvermacher / Advance-Titan
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) estimated 30 million Americans will encounter an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

“Everyone deals with stress, but when you have anxiety it can sometimes be hard to focus on anything but what is stressing you out,” 21-year-old Clara said. “I know that I don’t always handle it the best, but some of the things I try to remind myself is that I am capable and I can do it, because anxiety wants to tell [me] that [I] can’t.”

Clara said she has dealt with stress and anxiety since she was very young. She would get scared performing in front of people. It got worse in middle school when school got more intense and body image became prevalent.

“I didn’t want to admit I had a problem with anxiety until I was a junior in college,” Clara said. “Mental health is incredibly important because it affects how we think, feel and act.”

To deal with anxiety, she journals and takes medication.

“The medication helps because it makes the anxiety and stress less overwhelming,” Clara said. “I found that journaling has really helped me because I hated talking to people because I don’t like to feel like a burden. When I journal I can let out all my thoughts and feelings without judgment.”

Clara wants anyone dealing with severe stress and anxiety to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out for help.

“It seems scary [to ask for help], but once you do it’s like a huge weight is taken off your shoulders and you get the validation that you’re not just crazy,” she said.

Dealing with depression

“For me, having depression looks like isolation and feeling like I have no hope,” 19-year-old Lily said. “I tend to have the feeling that nobody cares about me, and that I am a burden to the people in my life.”

Lily said she has dealt with depression since high school, but it has gotten serious only recently.

“Dealing with depression is pretty difficult, at least for me,” she said. “The main way I deal with it is isolation. I tend to separate myself from my friends. I start to shut people out when it gets really bad.”

To deal with depression, Lily has recently started taking medication and seeing a therapist to work through what she is feeling. She wants to let anyone dealing with depression know that there are people out there to help.

“I struggled for a while with realizing that people are able to help me, but when it got serious I did realize that it is OK to get help,” Lily said. “People are out there that care about you, and want you to be OK.”

Eating disorders affect people of all ages

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAwareness Week) is an annual campaign to “educate the public about the realities of eating disorders and to provide hope, support and visibility to individuals and families affected by eating disorders,” according to National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). NEDAwareness Week 2022 took place Feb. 21-27.

NEDA surveys estimate 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. This affects people of all different ages, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, religions, body shapes, weights and more.

Eating disorders develop in many different ways, according to NEDA. Eating disorders cover a wide range of disorders including anorexia nervosa, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, diabulimia, orthorexia and compulsive exercise.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anorexia nervosa has an extremely high mortality rate compared with other mental disorders.

Janet Lydecker, director of child eating and weight initiatives for Yale’s Program for Obesity, Weight and Eating Research, said her team expected eating disorders would become a huge problem through the pandemic as children stayed home from school.

“[Children are] stressed and lonely, and they have access to food, so we do see more binge-eating,” Lydecker said. “And then they gain weight and are desperate to lose it, so we see more restrictive eating.”

Lydecker said seeking professional help within the first three years of the eating disorder increase the chances of successfully treating it.

According to Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, some Milwaukee health leaders have seen a surge in eating disorders that link to obstacles created by the pandemic.

“Things are getting better on the in-patient side, but like most mental health issues, there aren’t enough resources out there,” said Dr. Keisha Adams of the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

When it comes to students at UW Oshkosh or any other campus, having resources such as counseling and access to food on campus is important to promote good mental health.

With the high expenses of schooling, having extra money for food is tough. The Cabinet (Food Pantry), located in Titan Underground, makes food accessible to students.

“Students shouldn’t have to choose between a meal and their education,” Director of The Cabinet Kaitlyn Henry said. “There are many resources around the Oshkosh area to help combat food insecurity, but having an on-campus food pantry helps provide food to students that may not have a car or don’t know where to look for help to get food.”

The Cabinet opened in February 2020, but shortly after opening, it had to close due to COVID-19. After reopening in fall 2020,, only 217 students used the resources. As more students are returning to in-person classes and staying on campus, The Cabinet has been used approximately 375 times this school year between September 2021 and February 2022.

All currently enrolled UWO students can use The Cabinet once per week, either in person or using the online ordering system, which is available on the OSA website or on the UWO Mobile app. Spring semester hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

“The Cabinet can also be used by students who feel as though they don’t necessarily have food insecurity and just want to get some free food for the week,” Henry said.

The Oshkosh Student Association is hosting a food and hygiene drive through March 4. There will be donation boxes all around campus throughout the week. For more information on dating to The Cabinet, visit the Oshkosh Student Association website.

OSA President Jacob Fischer said one of the reasons he ran for president was the topic of mental health. Alongside the OSA, Fischer has been able to promote mental health in different ways this school year.

“It was unfortunate to see the negative impact that some COVID policies had on student’s mental health,” Fischer said. “I believe that my role, and the role of OSA at large, is all about mental health in that our main duty is to ensure the wellbeing of UWO students.”

Mental health is a difficult topic to talk about, but OSA encourages students to take part in these conversations. OSA has discussed how to combat food insecurity on college campuses, and it is supporting an after hours mental health emergency service on campus called ProtoCall. This is an extension to the UWO Counseling Center, which OSA is collaborating with for an upcoming campus-wide suicide prevention campaign.

“I would love to see a UWO campus where every student can get the help they need, and are not afraid to get it,” Fischer said. “The problem with this is there is no one-size-fits-all approach. OSA has decided to approach the topic by providing as many resources as we can, so that students can pick and choose what works best for them.”

The UWO Counseling Center provides many free resources for UWO students. According to the website, it is “a center of encouraging, compassionate professionals who engage students in overcoming challenges and achieving wellness while honoring the dignity and worth of each person.”

They provide individual and group therapy, animal assisted therapy, wellness workshops, restorative yoga, student success coaching, emergency services and more.