By Lizzie Thomas | Reporter
In the spirit of Mental Health Week, the Baylor Counseling Center held a day-long event Thursday in the Baylor Science Building called Peace Hope Love. Booths with games and food brought attention to different aspects of mental health, which was the theme for the day. Students attended a showing of “A Beautiful Mind”, a talk on sexual minorities and a talk on eating disorders in students.
According to Erin McGinty Fort, the eating disorder specialist at the Baylor Counseling Center, American culture has many misconceptions about people with eating disorders. It is widely believed that only rich, young, white girls have eating disorders, that people can tell whether or not a person has an eating disorder by looking at them and that men don’t have eating disorders. In reality, McGinty Fort said, none of those are true.
According to Regina Mastin, the clinical dietitian at the Baylor Counseling Center, the term “healthy” has been hijacked.
“People think it means thin, when in reality, health is linked to physical activity,” Mastin said. “Someone can be very thin and unhealthy, and people celebrate that. Someone in a larger body can be active and moving and enjoying themselves and perfectly healthy.”
According to Mastin, making changes and trying to get healthier is not a problem. The problem begins when a person gets fixated on that, and they get stuck trying to control their body and how it looks.
McGinty Fort said that some people are more genetically prone to have an eating disorder than others, but genetics alone are not predictive. In order for people to actually form an eating disorder, they have to be in an environment where their temperament and genetics are fostered together. According to McGinty Fort, American culture makes it easy for people to find themselves in this type of environment.
“These environments can be eating attitudes and behaviors in the family, overt and covert messages received by others related to food, weight and shape, stress in response to messages received by the media and diet culture and sizeism,” McGinty Fort said.
McGinty Fort explained that “diet culture” promotes being thin as tied to moral goodness, whereas being fat is morally wrong, and it promotes negative assumptions about people in larger bodies. According to McGinty Fort, sizeism is discrimination based on weight. 85 percent of adolescents report seeing overweight peers be fat-shamed by their peers, teachers and their parents. The subjects of that shame can internalize that stigma and begin to feel the same way about themselves.
McGinty Fort recommended students avoid comments about weight altogether. People who have eating disorders can internalize “healthy” as another way of saying overweight. Also, praising someone’s thinness can be destructive. McGinty Fort shared a story about a friend who had an eating disorder and lost a lot of weight. People praised her for her weight loss and rewarded her behavior. Eventually, she got too thin by performing the same behaviors as before, but the same people who had praised her unhealthy weight loss shamed her for her thinness.
Instead, McGinty Fort recommended students express support for students who may have an eating disorder. “Are you okay? Can you help me understand what you think about when…?” There are helpful when tailored to the person they are directed to.
Some resources the Baylor Counselling Center provided for students who have an eating disorder or know someone who does are individual therapy, weekly support groups, nutritional therapy, psychiatry and medical monitoring. The National Eating Disorder Association has education, online screening and a helpline available.