Eating disorders increase nationally over the past 13 years

Many women worldwide battle eating disorders at some point in their lives, and the UNC Asheville community is no different. Photo by Kady Braswell.

Kady Braswell
A&F Staff Writer
[email protected]
The alarm clock goes off at 8 a.m., a whole hour before she would ever have to start getting ready for class. Getting out of bed, she begins her daily ritual of 100 jumping jacks, 50 crunches and 50 squats, knowing good and well she won’t replenish the calories burned, and this is just her first set.
She flips through her notebook to make sure she stays on track with eating just enough for the day and goes back to her exercise routine.
This has been her life for almost two months now.
Graysen Schappell, a native of Asheville, began her battle with anorexia nervosa just weeks into her first year of college at Liberty University in Virginia.
Freshman year of college can be harder than imagined. There is a significant amount of more freedom and students are left to essentially care for themselves without the constant approval and praise of parents.
“Everything felt like it was spiraling out of control,” Schappell said. “Class was making me more anxious than ever and I knew I could have some sort of control over what I ate or didn’t eat, how much I worked out, stuff like that. It quickly became something disastrous, but I didn’t want or even know how to stop.”
As the pressure to succeed in college increases with each year, so do eating disorders among both men and women. In a study conducted by the National Eating Disorder Association, the rate of eating disorders increased from 7.9 percent to 25 percent among males and from 23.4 percent to 32.6 percent among females over the last 13 years.
According to NEDA, 12 percent of people believe eating disorders develop and continue to thrive because of society’s focus on vanity. Several behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal and social factors come into play with eating disorders. Examples being family background, the pressure to be perfect, feelings of low self-esteem and even genetics.
Food, whether over-eating or restricting, becomes a coping mechanism and one of the few things people can regulate when they feel like everything else is out of control in their lives.
This need for control might stem from troubled personal relationships, low self-esteem and a need to match society’s ideology of beautiful.
“I started getting low grades because I wasn’t focusing, so I thought I could make up for it if I at least looked good like they do in, I don’t know, those beauty magazines,” Schappell said.
From checking her weight once a week to checking it three times a day, she became obsessed with counting calories and made sure to cut out the “bad” foods like bread and her mom’s homemade macaroni and cheese.
Her eating disorder finally reached a breaking point when her roommate found her passed out in their bathroom after she had not eaten in the last three days.
“She shook me awake and it was almost like I could feel my heart slowing down,” Schappell said. “That was it. That was the point I knew I needed to do something before I ended up in a grave.”
Schappell participated in the Raleigh NEDA walk with a few friends and plans on participating in the Asheville NEDA walk on Nov. 5 at UNC Asheville.
Taylor Speagle, a senior psychology student, said while she never attended a NEDA walk herself, she understands how they can be beneficial to those who have suffered and those who are in recovery from eating disorders.
“It’s encouraging to hear people’s stories, especially being a psychology major and knowing the mentality that goes through their minds when confronted with negative thoughts,” Speagle said. “To hear how they overcame and continue to keep growing in their recovery is incredible.”
Eating disorders are serious health conditions that can be physically, emotionally and mentally destructive and those with one or those who think they might have one should seek professional help as soon as they can.
Local counselor Jessica Hatton said she sees it a lot among her younger crowd of patients.
“It’s harder to treat the older they become because they’re so set in their ways already,”  Hatton said. “It’s better to get treatment as soon as possible.”
For local treatment options, students can contact UNC Asheville’s Health and Counseling Center, or go to the NEDA website and search the Treatment Provider Database.