Content warning: Eating disorders and disordered eating.
On March 30, McGill’s Eating Disorder Resource and Support Centre (EDRSC) held a virtual talk titled “Eating Disorders/Disordered Eating in the McGill Context.” In what was the EDRSC’s final talk of the 2020-2021 school year, panellists examined the dual impacts that university life and the COVID-19 pandemic have on students with eating disorders and disordered eating habits.
The EDRSC, which was founded in 2019, has transitioned its services of providing weekly peer-support groups and advocacy events to a virtual format since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. At Wednesday’s event, three EDRSC facilitators—Cody Esterle, Zuzana Navratil and Deborah Gallou—hosted a discussion on disordered eating at McGill, opening up conversations about eating disorders and providing support to students.
Esterle, BA ‘20 and co-founder of the EDRSC, said that academic pressures can contribute to the development of eating disorders.
“Specifically in the context of McGill, eating disorders and disordered eating can easily develop because of [the university’s] high stress and highly competitive culture in terms of classes and academic pressure,” Esterle said. “[They may] develop as coping strategies or mechanisms to adapt to these very situations.”
Navratil, U2 Arts and an EDRSC volunteer, said that transitioning to adulthood and entering into the university environment also impacts students’ eating habits.
“At McGill, there is a space where eating disorders can flourish, […] caused by stressors that are not necessarily academic,” Navratil said. “Moving to a new country, [or] not having your usual support system, encompass some of the biggest challenges of university life. For first year university students, living in residence can be a highly triggering environment.”
The discussion then shifted to topics regarding meal prepping and grocery shopping—activities which the speakers highlight sometimes cause distress to those with eating disorders. According to Gallou, BA ‘20 and support group volunteer for the EDRSC, meal prepping can lead to unconscious restrictive behaviours.
“As a student, meal prepping can start off as a good thing to gain time, but can spiral into disordered habits when you start to moralize certain kinds of foods,” Gallou said. “If you see social media advertising certain types of meal prepping plans, this can start a slippery slope into moralizing certain types of food and can start a perspective on viewing food in a restrictive way.”
Esterle suggested potential solutions for students to alleviate food-related stress, particularly for those who are recovering from an eating disorder.
“Finding a friend or a roommate to cook with or grocery shop can be helpful,” Esterle said. “Having that support can foster the development of new, positive connotations for food, which is good in recovery. [It can make] highly anxiety-inducing settings become less overwhelming [and] can make it even exciting and fun.”
Referencing the McGill Student Services decision to defund the McGill Eating Disorder Program in 2017, panellists stated that they believe that there is a lack of institutional support services at McGill that offer specialized treatment to students with eating disorders. Currently, there are two part-time dieticians at the Wellness Hub who are available to meet with students struggling with disordered eating.
“Professional support [at McGill is] inaccessible and restricted through endless waitlists,” Esterle said. “If one finally gets access, the lack of connection and education around [eating disorders] in other services also does not cover the many facets that eating disorders have, giving one-sided care to a coping mechanism that affects students socially, academically, mentally, physically, and more.”
More information and support is available from the EDRSC at https://edrsc.ssmu.ca/.