FT: Eating disorders are about more than body image. We need to teach and model holistic wellness with eating disorders in mind. Universal wellness design is key!
FT:ED r about more than body image. We need to teach&model holistic wellness w/EDs in mind. Universal wellness design is key! #SAchat
— Tiff Dyer (@TiffMDyer) February 19, 2015
You’re not going to scare someone with an eating disorder into eating, not eating, or not exercising. They’re shown that their teeth can rot out and they can grow body hair or they could die. You won’t scare them if you show them their body is beautiful the way it is. It’s deeper than all of that. When we focus on what eating disorders do to the body or how curves/fat-shaming are harmful, we’re doing great things (please don’t stop doing this!), but we’re really missing the bigger issue. People are taught a certain standard of beauty and the biggest part of that struggle are the psychological aspects. It’s the feeling of not feeling good enough as yourself, which is greater than body image. Stress, anxiety, and other psychological factors play major roles as well. Most of the time it’s not about body image at all; it’s about feeling small, disappearing, or the physical pain that comes with not eating. Food is a comfort and limiting it yields excessive stress and anxiety.
When we focus on more than just the body, we get closer to the root of the problem. When we design our spaces universally with eating disorders as another factor, we help more students with more than just eating disorders. That’s the beauty of universal design: it helps even those we didn’t design it specifically for! What does this look like? Universal design takes into account as many factors as possible when creating or maintaining a space in order to serve as many people as possible. The great thing about universal design is that it often benefits more than those who were originally taken into consideration.
When we create gender inclusive single stall bathrooms, we don’t only serve non cis individuals. We also serve families, people with shy bladder, those needing an aid, and even children. We often understand what universal design may look like for physical or learning disabilities, but what about the other stuff? Including eating disorders and healthy living means putting stake in women’s advocacy issues, aiding in the reduction of sexual and domestic abuse, understanding psychological disorders such as PTSD and anxiety, and understanding and using environmental theory. We will never consider everything, but the more we do consider, the more universally designed our campuses will be, and the easier it will be to model healthy behaviors for our students.
What are some ways we can use universal design on our campuses? These universal design options also help a multitude of other groups and address many other issues such as economic status, physical disability, allergies, race, and psychological disorders such as anxiety and PTSD. They address at least one of each of Swarbrick’s Wellness areas.
Here are some ways we can use universal design on our campuses:
- Setting up healthier eating options aid in getting people on track. Healthy options are gentler on empty/neglected stomachs
- Only offering an ‘unlimited meal plan’ that allows students to eat as much or as little as they’d like without feeling as though they are ‘wasting’ a swipe
- Creating multiple types of places to eat such as quiet spaces, large dining halls, private dining nooks, places with background music, exterior and interior spaces, soft and hard seating
- Creating women-identified only gym areas or hours
- Creating free fitness classes that are low key and focused on walking, light swimming or other activities that feel nonthreatening
- Offering free or scholarship dining plans to students who fall below a certain income bracket on their FAFSA or who have otherwise applied
- Facilitating programming on how to survive on dining hall food for 4+ years without getting bored
- Teaching students, faculty, and staff about the science behind disordered eating
- Having a time on campus where no meetings are able to be scheduled (aside from lunch meetings). No staff member is in their office because they are eating lunch at that time. This shows students how important it is to take breaks, eat something, and that wellness is a priority on the campus
- Including food in part of programming to get people to eat healthier
- Building dining halls or smaller places to get food (cafes or vending machines) that are easily accessible to students such as inside residence halls and academic buildings that also provide only healthy options
- Providing both a wide range of food but without creating the paradox of choice
- Including an eating plan in with all follow-ups with students who experience a traumatic experience such as with Title IX or a mental health event with self or others
These are just a few of the ways that we can think about disordered eating while designing our campuses. Some of these changes are large but others can be easily implemented. I’d love to hear more about how others envision taking eating disorders into account when thinking about universal design on their campus?