As part of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, UNC Asheville hosted several events for students which delivered a unique message this year.
“This year’s message was that eating disorders affect more than just women,” said Laura Sexton, UNCA’s registered dietician. “They affect men, different social groups, every ethnic group – pretty much anyone is affected by eating disorders.”
Sexton said she collaborated with all departments, and planned and attended every event.
“We held different types of events to target different groups of people,” Sexton said. “We had a belly-dancing class, a yoga class, we had a performer, and a lot of other different events.”
Writer and performer Chad Goller-Sojourner represented other groups with eating disorders through his performance, “Sitting in Circles with Rich White Girls: Memoirs of a Bulimic Black Boy.”
“The topics that we need to talk about are often what people want to brush under the rug,” Sexton said. “We are just trying to let people know there is help on this campus.”
Sexton said eating disorders are a bigger problem now than before, due to access to nutrition information, mass media and social media. She said the portrayal of what Americans deem to be beautiful affect people as well, and those pictures are often unrealistic.
“That gives us unrealistic views on how people’s bodies look,” Sexton said. “In turn people try to manipulate and change their bodies. It results in unhealthy behavior, such as restriction or over-exercising.”
Sexton said there is a need on campus for awareness and connecting people to the right resources for help. She said awareness is about identifying what an eating disorder is, or how an eating pattern may lead to a diagnosed disorder.
“I do a multitude of things,” Sexton said. “I am the clinical dietician for the campus so I see anyone who has a medical nutrition need. For example, if someone is diabetic, has an eating disorder or needs basic nutrition information, I am available for consult. That is part of tuition for students, and any faculty and staff can see me for free as well.”
Students and staff also attended Susan Neulist’s “Eating with Intention” lecture and “Dining with Intention” cooking class Feb. 26 and 27.
“I very much enjoyed working with the UNCA students and staff,” Neulist said. “All seemed very happy to help in every way. The active participation during the cooking class including the clean up was fun to watch.”
In her speech, Neulist said she recalls being overweight as a child, teenager and young adult in a society which values thinness. After her transformative experience with the 12-step program Overeaters Anonymous and practicing yoga, Neulist began living intentionally.
Neulist said she worked with Amy Lanou, UNCA’s chair and professor of health and wellness, on a newsletter project based on an observational study examining the diets, lifestyle and disease characteristics of 6,500 people in 65 rural Chinese counties. Their study concluded that people will reduce or reverse the development of several diseases if they eat a whole-food, plant-based, vegan diet — avoiding all animal products, and reducing their intake of processed foods and refined carbohydrates.
“My path then continued as I moved from Ithaca to North Carolina and became a cooking instructor for an organization called The Cancer Project,” Neulist said. “The opportunity to share my love of cooking and my interest in plant-based eating with people was one of the highlights of my life – especially as many were in situations of themselves or their families having cancer and looking for ways to make changes that might make a difference to their outcome.”
During her speech, Neulist listed concerns linked to the high production of animal-based foods, including disease, treatment of animals, environmental factors, malnutrition and hunger.
Neulist said she understands that not everyone will become a vegan or vegetarian – that all people pick their own battles, their areas to make a difference.
“I have made the decision to do all that I can to reduce my consumption of animals and animal-based products, and therefore reducing my footprint on the planet,” Neulist said. “Yet when in the states, I drive too much and I fly too much for various reasons. I would hate for someone who rides his or her bike everywhere to judge me for how I transport myself.”
During her speech, Neulist asked her audience to use note cards placed on their seats beforehand, to write down one or more of their values. Neulist then talked about some of her values and asked listeners to think of their own values and intentions in life.
Neulist said her values were kindness to herself and others, adventure, service, community, creativity and spirituality.
At the end of her speech, Neulist had her audience write down intentions that matched their values, and then opened the floor up for a Q – and – A session.
“Several participants came to me after the talk and cooking class to ask specific questions, and almost all thanked me for my programs,” Neulist said.
Among those at Neulist’s cooking class was Eden Hogge, a sophomore environmental studies student.
“This event was truly lovely, and Susan is amazing,” Hogge said. “She has been a vegan for the entirety of my life and has since gone gluten free and sugar free. She was also incredibly kind and patient. She and her husband were kind and interesting people. Everyone else was also good company.”
Hogge said they prepared kale salad, mango salsa, quesadillas with hummus instead of cheese and a berry and apple dessert with sugar-free vanilla ice cream.
“Everything was delicious,” Hogge said. “I learned how to properly cut a mango and how to roast sesame seeds. The heated-up hummus is delicious and can be an excellent cheese substitute. I also learned that it is possible to live with Susan’s dietary restrictions and I also now have an extreme example of a success story when people tell me they need meat protein to survive. Finally, I have relearned to be more thoughtful when purchasing food, and have since tried to purchase as much local and in-season food as I can.”
Hogge, a vegan who loves cooking, said she attended the cooking class because she read about it in a newsletter from a food study she participates in. She said she is unaware of eating disorders being a problem on campus, but knows that those with eating disorders try to hide their symptoms.
“I had a friend who had an eating disorder for many years,” Hogge said. “They would go large amounts of time without eating anything, and then they would go on a binge. They would go without eating because they have a larger body type and they were disgusted with it, so disgusted that it turned them off of food.”
Hogge said at a certain point her friend’s starving body won and she had overcompensated by overeating. This went on for years until she became educated and supported on the matter. She said her friend began to incorporate a regular, healthy diet and is much happier and healthier now.
“The fact that women have a greater likelihood of suffering from an eating disorder than men reflects both the inequality in our society and the largely accepted definition of beautiful,” Hogge said. “Although women’s equality is pushing forward, this is still a male dominated society, and with that comes the objectification of women and the expectation that they should be beautiful. From magazines and most famous people today, it can be seen that one of our society’s greatest idea of beauty is thin and flawless. Flawless is a bit harder to pull off, but to be thin, one has much more control over.”