Eating disorders affect 40 percent of female college students, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. But BYU’s Fed up with Food program fights the trend with a tight-knit, confidential support group.
Fed Up with Food is sponsored by the BYU Women’s Services and Resources Office to give a sense of community to those suffering from an eating disorder.
The support group meets Wednesdays at 7 p.m. However, getting into the group might be more difficult than one would think. Rebecca Hamilton, a facilitator for the support group, said Fed Up is a bit more exclusive than typical 12-step support group meetings, but with good reason.
“We try to cap our membership at about 18,” Hamilton said. “It gets hard to facilitate, and we want girls to feel that they can talk in the group, and when you get 50 plus girls, it gets hard.”
Hamilton explained the Fed Up support group has even had to turn students away in the past. The group follows an adapted version of the 12-step recovery process used by Alcoholics Anonymous. However, in the eating disorder support group, they ensure each new member is paired with a mentor, all of whom have a minimum one year of recovered behavior.
In addition to the facilitated friendship within the group, mentors are there as constant companions to recovering members of the support group. Rather than simply meeting once a week as a group, mentors and mentees are additionally required to meet outside of the group and to be available for phone calls and any kind of advice the mentee may need.
Students may have a misconception that eating disorders occur more rarely at BYU due to the religious nature of the university. However, although BYU-specific numbers are not available, the National Eating Disorders Association reports that the rate of eating disorders among college students has risen from 10 to 20 percent in women since 2007, and from 4 to 10 percent of men. Many experts attribute the stress of college to need for the feeling of control that an eating disorder can deliver.
Michelle Steinberg, a Fed Up group mentor and a recovering anorexic (her name has been changed for this article), believes our culture here at BYU can be detrimental to those battling with an eating disorder.
“BYU can be a society of ‘Am I doing enough? Am I matching up with those around me? What could I be doing better?'” Steinberg said. “Personally I think it’s pretty heavy at BYU because we have this attitude of perfection, and sometimes I think we associate being beautiful or being thin with being righteous, when it really has nothing to do with it and no correlation.”
Steinberg said after having recovered from her eating disorder, she saw that her anorexia had given her a strong sense of control in her life.
“I was worried about my grades and college, and all of these thing seemed uncontrollable, but what was controllable was my weight,” Steinberg said.
Having recovered from her disorder, Steinberg now realizes how important it is to have a strong support network, and how essential it is to one’s recovery to be able to talk about personal problems in a safe environment.
“When someone has an eating disorder they often feel very isolated,” Steinberg said. “They can’t talk to anybody else, and you just become closed off from your friends. This group provides a safe space to talk about this issue with others who are not going to judge them and have been through it.”
Currently the Fed Up with Food support group has openings for new members, and more information about the group can be found on the Women’s Services and Resources webpage. Mentors are available for free consultations by appointment.