The rate of eating disorders among college students has risen to nearly 20 percent of women, and up to 10 percent of men. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that full-blown eating disorders usually develop between the ages of 18 and 21, and 35 percent of “normal” eaters progress to pathological dieting. To raise funds and spread awareness about the severity of eating disorders, the organization is holding the fifth annual Charlottesville NEDA walk at UVA.
Postbaccalaureate premedical student and event organizer Clare Brady has been involved with the organization since she recovered from an eating disorder as a University of Notre Dame undergraduate six years ago.
“I really think that college is unfortunately a time when girls are sort of valued for their bodies,” Brady said. “You don’t have a career yet, it’s the first time you’re on your own. You’re really susceptible to thinking you have to be a certain way to be valued. It’s hard in that environment to be the one who isn’t going along with those standards.”
Despite a recent increase in programs and funding on college campuses, Brady said that eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are still somewhat misconceived, taboo topics. It doesn’t get talked about enough, and groups like NEDA and UVA’s Women’s Center are trying to facilitate the conversation in a way that removes the stigma and promotes positive body image.
“The biggest misconception is that it’s just girls that want to be skinny,” she said. “But it takes over, and people get embarrassed about it. We need to remove that misconception and be open about it. Just like somebody else could have any disease, we would never shame them for it. It’s not something to be ashamed of.”
Brady found support and a path to her own recovery through an on-campus therapist and a circle of close friends, which she said were a godsend. But a lot of college students suffer on their own, either unaware of the resources available or embarrassed to reach out, she said, which is why she got involved with NEDA’s Navigator program. Navigators are volunteers with experience battling eating disorders, who provide anonymous e-mail resources for anyone who is struggling.
“I didn’t know much about [eating disorders] in high school, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to,” Brady said. “Which is why I think the Navigator program is so important. You can just talk to someone that understands and felt some of those pressures.”
In an effort to alleviate some of those pressures, NEDA has been holding fundraising walks in communities nationwide for more than a decade. On Saturday, March 22, Brady and other volunteers will gather at Nameless Field on Grounds at 1:30pm for a one-mile walk across the Lawn and along Emmet Street and the Corner.
“It’s really a leisurely stroll, as opposed to a 5k, which would have veered toward being inappropriate,” Brady said. “It’s more for awareness, carrying signs in a public area, and solidarity.”
Admission is $25 for adults, $15 for students, $10 for children under 12, and $5 for pets. To pre-register, visit www.nedawalk.org/charlottesville2014, or call (212) 575-6200. For more information, contact Clare Brady at Clare.D.Brady@gmail.com.