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Love the Body You’re In

Tips for staying positive, avoiding self-criticism tonight

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LovinBodyPoster.jpg

For many students, looking in the mirror is harder than it should be. Too often, they don’t like what they see and wish they could change. In today’s culture, it can be hard not to fall prey to images of the idealized body. A 2006 survey published in NASPA’s Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice found that 75 percent of college students are dissatisfied with their weight. Equally disquieting is an earlier survey published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders that found that more than 90 percent of women on a college campus had dieted, with almost a quarter dieting “often” or “always.”

To encourage students to have a more positive body image, the Student Health Services Wellness Program is hosting a panel discussion tonight, February 23, titled Lovin’ the Body You’re In. The Wellness Program’s purpose is to help make the BU community aware of health and wellness initiatives at BU. Speaking at the discussion, being held at the Howard Thurman Center at 6:30 p.m., are Kimberly Dennis, medical director of Timberline Knolls, a residential treatment facility for women outside Chicago; Kate Ackerman, an internist and endocrinologist at Children’s Hospital Boston and Massachusetts General Hospital; Whitney Post, president and cofounder of the Eating for Life Alliance, which works with colleges to ensure they have the resources to help prevent and treat body image disturbances; and several BU medical staff, including Margaret Ross, director of Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services.

“Everyone is going to deal with this on some level. It’s a continuum,” says Post a former Olympic rower. “What’s important is opening up a dialogue and realizing you’re not the only one.”

That is just what tonight’s panelists hope to achieve.

“What I love about these events is hearing from so many different voices,” Post says. “If you show different perspectives, it’s demonstrating that every person is different, every journey is different.”

While every journey may be different, one common trigger associated with poor body image is stress. Being at college is a time of transition and vulnerability. For many students, it’s their first time living away from home. It’s easy, experts say, to feel overwhelmed by so many new experiences all at once.

“If you’re in a new environment, a new school, this can breed insecurity. You compare yourself to others, compare your body to others, because you want to fit in,” says Dawn Hynes, cofounder of the Eating for Life Alliance. “You’re going to match up the way you look: what can I do to be more like them? What can I do to change myself?”

Such comparisons can be minor at the outset, but can ultimately lead to unhealthy long-term habits. And the negative stresses so commonly associated with college life—academics, socializing, dating—are often targeted at the body.

“So often we feel that if we look a certain way, then we’re going to have what we need,” Post says.

Dennis believes that Americans need to recognize the troublesome disconnect we often suffer between how we view others and how we view ourselves. “A lot of times people can see the beauty in other people,” she says, “but not in themselves.”

One of the most important things students can do, Dennis says, is build meaningful and supportive relationships and make time for face-to-face interactions. Another important step for students to take, according to experts, is to talk about how they feel. Being open with peers, and helping one another stay positive when discussing physical appearance, can make a difference.

“It’s about changing the conversation,” says Hynes. “Saying you’re not comfortable with that conversation; allowing yourself to have the conversation, but not have it be so negative.”

BU provides several resources for assessing, monitoring, supporting, or referring students who are struggling with negative body image or eating issues. Two good places to start are the Nutrition and Fitness Center at Sargent College and Student Health Services, which has a website where students can hear from those who have experienced similar issues. Full-time students are eligible for a complete nutritional assessment and behavioral medicine services. Most primary care services are free for full-time students.

The Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders and the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation are additional resources available to students.

Organizers of Lovin’ the Body You’re In hope to accentuate the positive, offering practical tips and tools for students on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and feel better about their bodies. “It’s about focusing on the strengths that make you the person you are,” says Ross. “It’s about learning the art of self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and self-care.”

Lovin’ the Body You’re In is tonight, Wednesday February 23, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Howard Thurman Center, George Sherman Union lower level, 775 Commonwealth Ave. Hosted by BU’s Wellness Program, the event is cosponsored by Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center and the Eating for Life Alliance. It is free and open to the public

Laura Davidson can be reached at ldavidso@bu.edu.

8 Comments

8 Comments on Love the Body You’re In

  • Anonymous on 02.23.2011 at 6:56 am

    the facebook event says the panel discussion starts at 7. is it 6:30 now?

  • Anonymous on 02.23.2011 at 9:55 am

    College women's weight

    I’d love to see the statistics on why today’s college women are heavier than when I was in college. (1972-1976) I have a hunch that it has to do with drinking alcohol. I ride the T and, more often than not, young people talk about going out to get drunk. That may not affect their test taking ability the next day, but it will put 20 pounds on the young women who engage in that behavior every week. I wonder whether being worried about their weight isn’t a healthy thing, which might lead them to drinking less alcohol.

  • Anonymous on 02.23.2011 at 1:46 pm

    Perhaps there is a reason...

    I think it just doesn’t occur to social scientists that this poor self image issue is not social in nature (that would mean it doesn’t apply to their area of study, gasp).

    Perhaps poor self image is a healthy way that the body sends signals to the brain that the person is not eating in a healthy way. Of course, the brain doesn’t always interpret these signals properly.

  • Anonymous on 02.23.2011 at 2:21 pm

    Everyone is the 70's was skinny and had it together.

    Oh right, i forgot that no one drank alcohol in college in the 70′s. ever. especially since those exact years were when the drinking age in Massachusetts was lowered to 18. There was definitely no excessive drinking going on by 18 year olds that went to college in massachusetts in the 70′s. it’s these new young kids!

    Or we could think about it this way: maybe our culture has determined through what is represented in music, television and movies, that drinking is what makes activites fun and people cool. SO MAYBE, JUST MAYBE(!!!) these “young people” are gabbing about something that they think will make them fit in and feel cool in a society that tells them that it is. and do you SERIOUSLY think that those young women who are gabbing about drinking on the t, didn’t wake up the next morning and run on the tredmill the next morning to work off that alcohol? And if they didn’t do you think they didn’t beat themselves up about it?

    That’s exactly what the article is saying.

  • Anonymous on 02.23.2011 at 3:00 pm

    On BUniverse?

    This is about how people view themselves. The weight number is unimportant. Comparing young adults today with folks from more than 40 years ago is not relevant. I hope this forum will be accessible on BUniverse.

  • Anonymous on 02.23.2011 at 4:52 pm

    I find the graphic along with this article is a bit odd. First of all what is meant by dieting? It seems like there is a negative tone to it. As if dieting is something people who may develop eating disorders do. Maybe dieting is not eating junk carbs and eating more vegetables instead.
    Also the statistic of the “advertised” body image looks like bs to me. The term ‘naturally’ really doesn’t mean anything. A lot of people are overweight simply because they eat way more calories than they use. Also the foods available at restaurants and cafeterias are usually loaded with refined “lacking vitamins and minerals” carbs and low quality cheese. Also most people don’t want to eat salad for every meal, especially in the winter.

    So long story short. You don’t have to starve. Just eat more vegetables and less empty carbs.

  • Anonymous on 02.23.2011 at 5:31 pm

    “A lot of people are overweight simply because they eat way more calories than they use. Also the foods available at restaurants and cafeterias are usually loaded with refined “lacking vitamins and minerals” carbs and low quality cheese. Also most people don’t want to eat salad for every meal, especially in the winter. So long story short. You don’t have to starve. Just eat more vegetables and less empty carbs.”

    Yep, that’s me. Problem is, I was raised as a picky eater. My parents never forced me to eat vegetables, and instead they gave in to my demands for fattening foods. Now, I am very overweight, and I have a sugar addiction that is almost impossible to break. I am also an emotional eater and suffer from depression, which I sometimes treat with food, not antidepressants (I tried; the pills didn’t help me). I wish it was just as simple to eat more vegetables. As for exercise, I do exercise occasionally. Problem with being depressed, however, is an almost complete inability to motivate myself to exercise, so I would still classify myself as sedentary. For my situation, nothing about dieting and losing weight is simple.

  • Anonymous on 02.23.2011 at 8:15 pm

    It's a good thing

    More and more Americans are obese, and there are so many reasons why. Children are obese and adults are obese. Nutrition and fitness education to prevent obesity should start in elementary school. I remember hating gym when I was a child; THAT’S when I would have benefited most from learning ‘WHY’ it was important to be active. Cafeteria food? THAT’S where posters should have been posted noting nutrition facts and portion control! Whether a college student or not, regardless of the lifestyle that lead a person to being obese; learning to accept ones self is an important first step. It’s a good thing that there are resources like the ‘Love the Body You’re In’ discussion that can help people get on a nutrition and fitness track with the necessary supports in place to live a more healthy, rewarding life.

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