UNH Health Services hosted various events at the Hamel Recreation Center for “Eating Concerns Awareness Week” (Feb. 27-March 3), to spread awareness about eating disorders and to reach out to those affected in the Durham community.
UNH students and Eating Concerns Mentors (ECMs) co-leaders Jessica Pelletier and Jessica Shaw led events for the week at the Hamel Recreation Center through Health Services to coincide with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb 26-March 4).
Nutrition Educator/Counselor Laila Hammam supervised the planning of the events with the intention that each event reached various crowds of people and to make Health Services’ presence more known on campus.
The role of ECMs is to provide one-on-one peer support to students who are struggling with eating disorders and to reach out to the greater UNH community to educate on eating disorders, promote body positivity and inform students of resources available on campus.
“Having an eating disorder is a haunting thing, like having someone inside of your head all of the time,” Shaw said. “So, our job requires spreading awareness so that nobody has to suffer alone.”
Shaw led a discussion on March 1, titled “Helping a Friend with an Eating Disorder,” which involved helping students to understand what it’s like to have an eating disorder and how to be a successful support system for those that are struggling.
“Approaching someone is scary and very unpredictable,” Shaw said. “We try to instill some confidence in students here, because it really does help.”
One of the events that Hammam believes had a great response was called “Trash the Scale and Size is Just a Number,” held on Feb. 28, which allowed students to write an insecurity on a note, throw it away, and then write something positive about themselves to be posted.
Hammam said that the most difficult aspects of spreading awareness about eating disorders to students is combating the stigma associated with eating concerns, students not knowing what resources are available and students not being able to identify what an eating disorder is.
“It can be really tough trying to help people,” Hammam said. “One of the things that we try to do is to make people realize, ‘Okay, this is maybe not normal behavior.’ And if you’re weighing yourself daily, several times a day, maybe there is something deeper than just wanting to know how much you weigh.”
Another event that Pelletier participated was “Operation Beautiful” on Feb. 27, in which ECMs posted heart-shaped sticky notes around campus with body positivity quotes written on them. On Thursday night, Health Services showed a viewing of the documentary “All Of Me” in the Memorial Union Building (MUB).
“This documentary demonstrated the truth behind struggling with an eating disorder, but it also proved that recovery is possible,” Pelletier said.
ECMs also have a program called “How to Help a Friend,” which teaches how to approach and help someone you know who may be struggling with an eating disorder. With this program, the ECMs instruct people on warning signs and go over general criteria for various eating disorders.
Any student that is struggling with an eating disorder can go to the Health Services website and apply for an eating concerns mentor. Hammam said that students may feel more comfortable reaching out to a peer at first, but Hammam can schedule appointments for students as well.
Hammam said that friends who fear their friend is struggling with an eating disorder should not be afraid of how they will react. She said that friends should approach the concern as it’s happening. She also said to use “I” statements when addressing eating concerns in a friend, and to show concern. Hammam said not to use “you” statements such as “you look too skinny” and to be very patient when addressing the concern.