“It was a game for me to see how little I could eat, to see how long I could go before I couldn’t resist food anymore. It was a personal challenge. I never saw myself as anorexic,” said one UCSB first-year student who wished to remain anonymous.

According to a Student Health survey conducted in 2002, 21.3 percent of UCSB students meet the criteria for having an eating disorder.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, held from Feb. 24 to March 1, centers on drawing attention to the dangers of unhealthy body image and the treatment of those who suffer from eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. UCSB is host to a series of events this week that aim to promote healthier eating habits among the student body.

UCSB Healthy Eating and Living program faculty adviser Joanna Hill said college students are particularly vulnerable to having an eating disorder or acquiring a negative body image.

“Eating disorders usually begin or happen before the age of 25 so the college-aged population is the most likely age to develop an eating disorder,” Hill said. “This is the time where one has the highest chance of getting a negative body image, so this is the age where it is important to get the right information on the subject of eating disorders.”

Hill also said that the beach location of UCSB and cultural beauty stereotypes that are allegedly prevalent in California may serve as major factors that make UCSB students particularly susceptible to body image issues.

“I think that [the pressure for aesthetic perfection] has a lot to do with the California atmosphere,” Hill said. “This is a very look-centered state. There’s definitely more pressure to fit the ideal of California beauty.”
Greg Griffiths, a fourth-year sociology major involved in the NEDAW event, said he has had first-hand insight into the destructive nature of eating disorders.

“One of my good friend’s younger sisters was bulimic and she dropped to such a low weight that her heart stopped and she was put on assisted breathing in the ICU,” Griffiths said. “Just to see someone at that point opens a new kind of awareness.”

Ruben Ochoa, H.E.A.L. Events Committee coordinator and fourth-year psychology major, said the week’s events aim to reflect the different facets of eating disorders, from scientific information to knowledge regarding treatment.

“Each day was specified and planned carefully,” Ochoa said. “I went for a shocking effect to give students information and to tell people not to over-criticize themselves.”

Monday featured an Every Body is Beautiful campaign to promote positive body image amongst UCSB students and faculty. Tuesday and Wednesday’s events focused on a more active approach, culminating in tonight’s upcoming dodge ball game.

Thursday will include a screening of “Do I Look Fat?,” — a documentary about seven men struggling with eating disorders — and on Friday, students are invited to wear black or white to acknowledge the issue of eating disorders.

Ochoa said he especially wants to encourage students to seek help through the campus H.E.A.L. program. Students can make an appointment by going online to www.UCSBpeerhealth.org/heal.

“There’s not really a ‘what to do’ step,” Ochoa said. “Usually the person who has the eating disorder won’t be the one to seek help. If you see your friend [struggling with unhealthy eating habits] or you are the person in need of help, make an appointment. It’s confidential [and] we provide help.”