Picture this: you are at your annual check-up with your doctor, and you tell her you've been experiencing several symptoms that interfere with your daily life. She diagnoses you with a common medical condition that affects millions of Americans. You need treatment for your illness. Without treatment you could suffer permanent physical damage, worsening mental health, or even death. You begin to look into your treatment options, but quickly realize that getting help will be more difficult than you imagined. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may have to spend thousands of dollars for specialized care, drive hours to treatment providers, or settle for seeing local health care providers who have little experience treating your illness.
Unfortunately, this is the reality for people suffering from an eating disorder in the Myrtle Beach area—Coastal students included.
Recent research findings from a study of undergraduate and graduate students at 12 U.S. colleges and universities indicate that an estimated 17% of women and 5.5% of men in college engage in disordered eating behaviors and are at risk for developing a clinical eating disorder.
Common symptoms of an eating disorder such as dieting, preoccupation with one’s body, excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, and binge eating are becoming increasingly normalized—especially due to Western society’s obsession with bodies and dieting.
Other research indicates that students with eating disorders often do not get help. Researchers at the University of Michigan, Stanford, and Vanderbilt found that, for people with positive screenings for an eating disorder, only 48% thought they needed help, and only 15% sought treatment. These statistics are alarming in and of themselves, but become much more alarming when considering the lack of resources available on Coastal’s campus an in the Myrtle Beach area as a whole. Even among those who do want help for their eating disorder, they may not have access to the resources necessary to make a full recovery.
For CCU students who are experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder or students who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, a lack of publicized help can mean that those who need help but are unfamiliar with what help is available, delay recovery.
While CCU Counseling Services does an excellent job with publicizing help with stress management, depression, and anxiety, and help for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, there is no established, guaranteed eating disorder recovery support group, and the Counseling Services website only briefly mentions eating disorders in reference to as needed group counseling. Similarly, neither the exercise consulting nor nutrition consulting pages on the LiveWell website mention eating disorders.
Additionally, Dining Services and CCU Recreation fail to publicize risk factors, signs and symptoms, and resources for eating disorders. There is no mention of eating disorders on the CCU Food Crew website or social media pages.
Molly Ford, a dietician at Dining Services here at Coastal Carolina University, offered an explanation as to why there is no mention of eating disorders.
“Dining Services kitchen staff members are not able or qualified to provide medical advice,” said Ford. “Therefore. they do not provide information about eating disorders on our CCU Food Crew website or social media site. Eating disorders is a counseling-related topic and eating disorder support information can be found on the Counseling Services website.”
However, I would argue that having better publicized resources and more inclusive health and wellness guidance is not medical advice.
Dining Services has a section on the website titled “Health and Wellness” for a reason. Having a healthy relationship with food and prioritizing wellness includes not taking dieting or exercise too far. The “Health and Wellness” section of the CCU Food Crew website would be a prime place to provide resources and education about eating disorders—especially since many eating disorder behaviors are normalized, such as chronic dieting, obsessing about nutritional information, and cutting out food groups without a medically-necessary reason. Even a brief mention of the warning signs of an eating disorder may be the difference between someone recognizing they have a problem or not.
For people who engage in excessive exercise as a symptom of their eating disorder, there is no mention of eating disorders or excessive exercise on the CCU Recreation website, Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram. For students who are seeking help, but do not know where to find it, the lack of resources on the Counseling Services, LiveWell, CCU Dining Services, and CCU Recreation websites and social media pages are likely to delay their contact with treatment providers or prevent them from getting help at all.
Jody Davis, Director of University Recreation, noted that the Live Well Office, rather than University Recreation, are in charge of promoting programs and information related to wellness on campus.
Even so, there are few references to eating disorders on the Live Well website.
Perhaps the Live Well Office and University Recreation can promote exercise and wellness without focusing primarily on weight loss and bodily appearance, and opposing the pervasive “no days off” mentality. Individuals should exercise because it feels good and improves health, not because they are burning off their dessert or feel guilty for taking a day off.
While some people may argue that students in recovery or seeking treatment with an eating disorder can look to outside providers to meet their needs, a lack of resources available in the Myrtle Beach area further exemplifies the need for more resources on the CCU campus. There are a host of counselors, dieticians, and physicians in the Myrtle Beach area, but access to health care providers with specialized training and experience treating eating disorders is crucial for recovery given the range of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms associated with an eating disorder.
As of now, there is only one eating disorder-specific support group in Myrtle Beach, but since it is off-campus, students without reliable transportation are not likely to have consistent access.
Furthermore, the financial barriers associated with treatment and traveling to receive care limit access for low-income students, students without health insurance, or students with time constraints due to family responsibilities and jobs. CCU should look for ways to improve support services for students with eating disorders at least until better resources are available in Myrtle Beach.
One former Coastal Carolina student, who has asked to remain anonymous, gave their input about the lack of resources and services for Coastal students.
“I went to talk to a therapist on campus, and they referred me to another person outside of campus who was going to charge $100 an hour,” said the student. “So, no. There were literally no useful resources on campus. I truly believe if they had offered better options I would have had an easier time in recovery.”
Students need reassurance that University services and staff will take their symptoms seriously. Given the frequent misconceptions about who develops an eating disorder and what someone with an eating disorder looks like, students also need more comprehensive and widespread education about the realities of eating disorders.
Another Coastal student, who also wished to remain anonymous, gave their thoughts about the struggle that comes with mental health problems.
"I think that if there wasn’t such a stigma around someone being bigger that they’re automatically unhealthy that more people would come forward and get the help they need,” said the student. “From my own experiences, I can definitely say that that is something that has stopped me from getting help because I’m afraid that all they’re going to tell me to do is lose weight, which isn’t what that’s about at all. Eating disorders are present in all body types, and I think that's something light needs to be brought to more.”
Until these issues are addressed, and until the University improves the publicity and availability of resources for students with eating disorders, students will continue to suffer in silence, delay recovery, and be limited in their abilities to reach their potential as students and achieve optimal well-being.
For students in recovery from an eating disorder or those who struggle with food and body issues, consider attending a weekly, student-led support group on Tuesdays at 6pm in LJSU A104. For clinical services, contact Counseling Services at 843-349-2305. Additionally, a crisis helpline is available through the National Eating Disorders Association at 800-931-2237.