Iowa State hopes to help students improve body image issues with outreach programs


According to Brown University’s health center, over 74 percent of females and 46 percent of males suffer from negative body image, which makes it an issue that hits close to home for many ISU students. 

Kaili Meyer

A focus on physical appearance can be a top priority and if someone feels they aren’t meeting societal standards, his or her body image may suffer immensely. Body image incorporates how people perceive their bodies visually, how they think others view their bodies and how others talk about their bodies.

Iowa State has taken notice and is actively pursuing a shift toward a positive body image by participating in Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness week, which takes place during the last week of February.

According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “only 10 to 15 percent of people with anorexia and bulimia are male.”

However, this doesn’t make the disorder any less real for survivors like Kody Larsen. Larsen, a senior in industrial technology and occupational health and safety, suffered from anorexia nervosa his freshman year at Iowa State.

“It started with 10 pounds, then 20, then 30 and kept going,” Larsen said. “I didn’t want to be around anyone or make any friends, instead I focused on losing more weight and isolating myself.”

Larsen was not alone in his struggle. In fact, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, statistics, 10 to 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men on college campuses suffer from eating disorders. That number continues to rise.

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders found that sufferers of eating disorders are 50 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

Reasons for this include college being typically a person’s first time away from the watchful eyes of close family members and friends, rendering them the freedom to make decisions on their own regarding food and exercise.

There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illnesses, with eating disorders having the highest mortality rate of all of them. National Eating Disorders Association has also found that eating disorders typically begin between the ages of 18 and 21, making college a high-risk period for the onset of these disorders.

Increased amount of stressors and responsibility can also trigger disordered eating in students. The web page for the counseling center at The University of Illinois states, “Symptoms usually represent more complex psychological or emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, perfectionism, low self-esteem, trauma, or relational problems with friends or family members,” not just an obsession with weight-loss and food.

Negative body image can be daunting and extremely hard to shake. Kelsey Brunson, senior in child, adult and family services at Iowa State, felt the pressure to be thin after putting on 70 pounds out of high school.

“I was very insecure, I felt like I was never going to be able to get it back off,” Brunson said.

Brunson turned to the mirror more as a mental support system rather than friends.The constant burden of not feeling good enough took a toll on daily activities. This is when negative body image can turn down a destructive path of disordered eating.

After months of hard work and a new healthier outlook on her appearance, Brunson said she is happier than ever and added, “Nothing feels better than being comfortable in your own skin.”

According to Brown University’s health center, more than 74 percent of females and 46 percent of males suffer from negative body image, which makes it an issue that hits close to home for many ISU students.

Another ISU student, junior Morgan Morse, also said she found her disorder isolating. She avoided social events that involved food and even skipped out on group meetings because, “they had treats there.”

Many people with eating disorders, like Larsen and Morse, may find it uncomfortable when confronted with their disorder.

“The hardest part was being told I had a disorder by other people. I didn’t know how to react to what people were saying and I didn’t want to change,” Larsen said.

Michelle Roling, certified eating disorder specialist and counselor at Iowa State, highlighted the importance of recognizing a disorder earlier, rather than later.

“Early detection can make a big difference in treatment, so do not wait,” Roling said.

Early detection can either reverse or worsen a disorder. If someone suspects a friend or loved one may have an eating disorder, Roling suggests reading up on what is helpful and what is not, doing a little bit of research on the disorder and being compassionate.

“You have to decide if there is someone closer to that individual or someone who they might hear the message better from,” Roling said. “Big interventions aren’t the best idea like with other addictions.”

Roling said one in 10 college students have a diagnosable eating disorder. Therefore, the likelihood of knowing someone on Iowa State’s campus that suffers from an eating disorder is high. 

“You cannot look at someone and know they have a disorder; their outwardly appearance cannot tell you what’s going on inwardly,” Roling said. “It’s never too late to start recovery or return to a treatment team.”