DeStefano Explains Causes, Disputes Stereotypes Surrounding Eating Disorders

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week—a countrywide effort to stimulate conversation surrounding eating disorders and promote inclusivity within the eating disorder community—drew to a close on March 3.

Looking to further its message, the Boston College chapter of To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA), a nonprofit dedicated to supporting people with depression and other mental disorders, hosted a talk on Feb. 27 concerning eating disorders and the overall climate at BC surrounding body positivity. The talk was given by Amanda DeStefano, the chief clinical director at Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (MEDA).

DeStefano began by talking about statistics pertaining to the pervasiveness of eating disorders, including the fact that one in five college-aged women suffer from bulimia, and one that showed that 16 percent of transgender college students report that they suffer from an eating disorder. Another figure, which DeStefano said she thought was sickening, said that half of women surveyed between the ages 18 and 25 would rather be hit by a truck than be fat.

Throughout her talk, she built upon the idea that an obsession with fitness and an anti-fat sentiment among some people can lead to an unhealthy relationship with one’s body.

One myth that should be dispelled, DeStefano said, is that which paints the stereotypical victim of an eating disorder as “Caucasian, female, young, middle-to-upper class.”

“Eating disorders do not discriminate,” DeStefano said.

She explained that people of all races, genders, and socioeconomic standing suffer from eating disorders at similar rates.

Why a student might begin to develop an eating disorder could come from several common causes, said DeStefano, including those that are developmental, social, and neurochemical.

A social cause of an eating disorder is perpetuated by a societal obsession with health and dieting, the latter of which is in part caused by a $60 billion per year diet industry, according to DeStefano.

“In the culture of perfectionism, we see a lot of black and white thinking,” she said. “We’re really trying to find the gray. With this all or nothing attitude, you see a lot of bad talk around food, you see a lot of depression and anxiety.”

She encouraged the audience to develop a culture of health within their own standards, in hopes that people would feel less of a need to conform to societal standards of what only appears healthy, rather than what actually is healthy.

“We are not all meant to be in thin bodies,” DeStefano said. “That’s just the way it goes. … When we say some people are tall and that some people are short, we accept that. Nobody’s going to try to stretch their body out to be another foot taller.”

Students that attended also spoke to the pressures that they feel as BC students, stemming from the “gym culture” that many attendees see permeated at BC—and with Spring Break looming, pressures to attain a perfect “beach body” were greater than ever.

“Some people are perfectly healthy, regardless of what their size is, and that’s where their body wants to be,” DeStefano said.

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Staff

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Danny Flynn is The Heights' own Copy Chief. Firm in his belief that New Haven, Conn. is home to the world's best pizza, Danny is an avid Liverpool FC fan, Weezer apologist, and fully commits to his subpar humor. Email him at [email protected], or follow his twitter, @dannygflynn.