This is the first article in a three-part series. Read parts two and three here.
Recent statistics from professors and staff at PLNU reveal that eating disorders are prevalent on campus.
Roughly 10 to 15 students in a 30 person nursing class admitted to having some sort of disordered eating pattern. Of approximately 120 women in Finch Hall last year, 82.3 percent stated they turned to food for comfort; 42 percent said they intentionally didn’t eat or starved themselves to lose weight.
This year in Hendricks and Klassen, 81 percent commented that they too turned to food for comfort, and 33 percent of the 83 people surveyed responded that they had intentionally not eaten or starved themselves to lose weight.
Kris Lambert, a nursing professor at PLNU, and Keeley Shaw, an interim resident director in Klassen, provided these statistics.
“There are a great amount of men and women on campus, primarily women, that’s the population I work with more, who struggle with some form of severity,” Shaw said. “It’s a huge scale of eating disorders. And I can even attest to that, living on campus, feeling the pressure to look thin or look your best when I was a student here. And even still as a staff member, it’s this sort of stigma that Point Loma has, like everyone dresses up to go to class.”
Last year, Residential Life (ResLife) and Shaw hosted a “Stand up for your Sister” event in Finch where students were surveyed, in part, for the purpose of identifying disordered eating patterns. ResLife did a similar hall event in Klassen and Hendricks this year.
In Finch, 8.4 percent of women said they had been diagnosed with an eating disorder while 2.5 percent responded the same in Klassen and Hendricks. When surveyed about whether women had ever thrown up or taken laxatives to lose weight, 17 percent of women in Finch responded yes in comparison to 7.2 percent who responded yes in the other two dorms.
The final question asked whether students had ever abused working out by working out excessively. In Finch, 25.2 percent responded yes; in the other two dorms, 22 percent said yes.
Shaw, a 2013 alumna of PLNU, personally dealt with two instances of extreme eating disorders in her time as a resident assistant (RA) in Goodwin Hall and as an assistant resident director in Finch Hall.
She’s also familiar with eating disorders through friends’ past behaviors, of overworking out, extreme dieting, taking laxatives or restricting food to lose weight.
RAs are generally the first to help students who are struggling with disordered eating, but Shaw said ResLife would intervene depending on the severity of the case.
In extreme circumstances, Shaw said intervention necessitated hospital visits or the student was asked to withdraw from the university for his or her health.
“My biggest piece of advice is to listen well and be that sort of safety point where they can release their anxieties and explain what’s going on but not to carry it, to let someone in a position higher than you, know what’s going on,” Shaw said.
“And for those struggling with it, I would say that ResLife – your RDs and RAs and Wellness Center, all of Student Development – is really willing to help you here because we want to see you graduate in four years. We want the best for you long term,” said Shaw.
In collaboration with the Wellness Center, faculty, staff, ResLife and athletics work together in Student Care Groups, directed by Jeffrey Carr, to help students who are struggling with disordered eating by being mindful of dramatic grade changes, extreme behaviors, low energy and loss of focus.
Lambert, a psychiatric nurse for about 30-35 years now, led a group with nursing professor Judy Scott in the Wellness Center called ‘Open Doors’ for three years, until the shift in staffing at the Wellness Center in February 2011. She said that 10 to 15 students in that group had eating issues, just like half of her class regularly does.
She also said that in her mental health in nursing classes that students tell her they struggle with disorders.
“We probably regularly had 10-15 gals at any given time. Over half of them had eating issues. Then that also pushes into relationships and everything else,” Lambert said. “I would say in my class of 30, there are usually about 10 to 15 girls that identify themselves as having some sort of eating issue, so it’s really prevalent.”