Only 44.8% of Utah women with eating disorders sought help from medical professionals, research says

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Hannah Miner
The BYU Women’s Services and Resources awareness gallery provides eating disorder statistics and resources for recovery. A recent research snapshot done by the Utah Women and Leadership Project showed that only 44.8% of Utah women diagnosed with eating disorders sought help with their diagnosis from healthcare and mental health professionals. (Hannah Miner)

A recent research snapshot done by the Utah Women and Leadership Project showed that less than half of Utah women diagnosed with eating disorders sought help with their diagnosis from healthcare professionals.

The snapshot, written by Maya Miyairi, Sara Boghosian and Sadie Wilde, discussed the factors that affect Utah women with eating disorders including media influence, social media, trauma, pregnancy and marriage, risk of suicide and healthcare access. They also included recommendations for Utahns to prevent and treat eating disorders among both men and women.

“Early intervention efforts must be in place by high school, at the latest, before the typical onset of (eating disorders),” the snapshot said. They recommended that schools put evidence-based eating disorder prevention programs in place.

One of the recommendations is The Body Project, a BYU organization available for female students. Their mission statement is to, “empower BYU women with the tools to combat society’s unrealistic appearance ideal and embrace all the wonderful aspects of themselves and others and focus on reaching their full potential while at BYU and throughout their lives.”

Jane Stirling is a BYU student studying sociology and one of the trained peer leaders for The Body Project at BYU. “The Body Project is a program that is empirically tested and proven to reduce rates of eating disorders among participants,” Stirling said.

This program is a two-session, two-hour each program. In each session, participants meet in a group setting to a read through a script and have a group discussion. “We talk about body image and kind of what’s known as the appearance ideal or what women are told they should look like or try to look like, and we talk about how those are harmful and unrealistic,” Stirling said.

In the first session they talk about health rather than appearance, and in the second session they focus more on redirecting appearance based comments. In this session they, “help girls shut down negative body talk whether it’s about others or about yourself,” Stirling said. They also discuss future pressures that may come up and how to handle them.

More information about The Body Project can be found here.

Eating Disorder Awareness week is February 11-17 and BYU Women’s Services and Resources has events to raise awareness across campus.

Eating Disorder Awareness week is February 11-17. BYU Women’s Services and Resources has events planned to raise awareness across BYU. (BYU Women’s Services and Resources)

Another recommendation the research snapshot included was that resources must be readily available for all women in Utah. Within the BYU community, there are many resources for people with eating disorders.

Lauren Absher is one of the dietitians at BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services and has worked for 14 years with eating disorders. “As dietitians we discuss eating disorder behaviors and strategies for how to combat fears about body size changing and how to find balance with food,” Absher said. She mentioned that they focus on intuitive eating and weight inclusive care which means they are not focused on weight as a health measurement but as a behavior change.

Absher said they work with all genders, though most of their clients are women due to the stigma around eating disorders. The waitlist for an appointment is currently three months long but they also have some group sessions available.

Lesli Allen is an assistant clinical faculty at BYU and has worked frequently with eating disorders. She mentioned that BYU has group sessions available through CAPS as well as individual sessions if needed.

“We have a shorter-term model at BYU and try to refer them to longer-term therapy,” Allen said.

Allen also spoke about some of the unhealthy ideals women face, from the “Freshman 15” myth to many women growing up in homes with disordered eating. “90% of women are unhappy with the way they look. Nose, size, etc. — most people come by it pretty naturally,” Allen said. She also mentioned that we even socialize around diet culture by saying things like, “I’m going to be bad today” while eating something deemed unhealthy at a restaurant.

However, there is hope. “I just really feel that there are a lot of great resources for people who want to be body positive,” Allen said. One of the resources she recommended was the “More Than a Body” book by Lexie Kite.

“We are really blessed to be in a body, regardless of how it looks,” Allen said.

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