Kara Stroup had a problem with control.
It wasn’t until her senior year of high school in 2011, a few months away from beginning her academic and athletic career at Temple, that she first managed to tell her mother about her eating disorder.
“It was more of a way to regulate my anxiety and stress,” said Stroup, a senior psychology major and captain of the women’s lacrosse team. “Instead of dealing with it openly or telling other people, I could use [food] to control it instead of actually dealing with it.”
During this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Stroup shared her experience yesterday at a meeting of Active Minds, a group that promotes mental health awareness on campus.
Active Minds, along with students from the Wellness Resource Center, put together a series of three events for the university’s second celebration of NEDA Week, including an information session in the Student Center, a body-positive yoga session in the HEART Office in Mitten Hall today at 3:30 p.m. and a Queer Lunch tomorrow at 11 a.m. to discuss body positivity in the LGBTQIA community.
This year, the week’s theme is: “It only takes three minutes to save a life.” The theme promotes the idea that with access to the right education, anyone can have the tools to better detect and address mental health issues like eating disorders.
“One of the big dangers with eating disorders is you can’t tell by just looking at someone,” said Molly Driscoll, a senior public health major and program coordinator for alcohol, other drugs and interpersonal violence at the Wellness Resource Center. “It makes it very easy for an eating disorder to continue to play games and be sneaky and really take hold of someone’s life, which is really what it did for me.”
Organizing NEDA Week events has become a passion project for Driscoll.
After the HEART Office was approached by Kaitlyn Oberg, a sophomore nursing major and peer counselor at the Wellness Resource Center, about starting up NEDA Week events on Main Campus, Driscoll decided to get on board. The two helped put together Temple’s first NEDA Week last year, with events like “Build a Barbie,” which encouraged body positivity.
“Being able to promote that [message] to my peers and convey the importance of self-acceptance is really significant and really powerful,” Driscoll said. “I think coming from peers and not just kind of reading statistics is way more powerful than being in a class or even hearing from some authoritative figure, just hearing personal stories, like it’s OK to be struggling and to understand there are people around to support you.”
Stroup said one of the most difficult things to keep in mind as a student-athlete, but something that applies to all students, is to remember to take time for your physical and mental health while balancing school and social activities.
“You have to take time for yourself to make sure you’re getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, eating and giving you time to just sit and relax, so you’re not so wound up and drowning,” Stroup said. “College kids in general face so much pressure, not just from just from school in general but social pressures.”
Eating disorders are often accompanied by other mental health issues, Driscoll said. This was the case for her and Stroup, who both suffer from anxiety.
“Often other mental health symptoms can exacerbate eating disorders and maybe even be the underlying cause,” Oberg said. “I know for a lot of people it can be OCD or anxiety can really contribute to the eating disorder.”
Driscoll and Oberg said they hope students walk away from NEDA Week with an understanding of the resources available to them on campus, since therapy is a really underutilized tool, they said.
“Eating disorder specialists say this all the time, that it’s not about the food,” Driscoll said. “It’s how people express their internal distress, and I think that’s really hard for people who don’t struggle with eating disorders to understand. Therapy can often be really stigmatized, but in reality it takes a really strong person to admit that they need help and that this person can be that extra support that you need.”
Alexa Bricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.