Breaking the Stigma: Eating Disorders


Photos by Yohanes Goodell. Photo composition by Brandon Davis.

Katherine Camarata, Lead Editor

Having an eating disorder may look like starving yourself or overeating, or it may be entirely invisible, occurring in the mind more than the body. CWU students shared their experiences living with eating disorders and Senior Lecturer and Dietitian Emily Shaw offered her professional perspective on the presence of eating disorders at CWU. 

“You look in the mirror and all you see is somebody who is fat and not pretty and disgusting,” junior in graphic design Elise T. said. “So you decide to restrict your portion size, because you think being skinny will help you fit the norm. Being in control of your portion size feels good. You realize that you use food as a crutch to make yourself feel better, to make yourself feel whole and less anxious and less upset. So you eat and eat and eat, and then you just feel sick.”

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, The Observer did a deep dive into eating disorders and found that 28.8 million or 9% of Americans will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. 10,200 deaths per year happen as a result of eating disorders, making eating disorders the second most deadly mental illnesses behind opioid addiction, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa characterized by extreme food restriction, bulimia characterized by purging, binge eating disorder characterized by excessive overeating and body dysmorphia characterized by a distorted sense of one’s own body image among others, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5. 

While the DSM-5 can be a useful tool, Shaw expressed that the DSM-5 does not reflect the “wide range of human experience of eating dysfunction,” and has no guidance for treatment or cause.

“DSM codes … should never be allowed to substitute for clinical judgment or to determine treatment recommendations,” Shaw said. “I think sometimes people feel that they don’t ‘fit’ the diagnosis so either they don’t take it seriously or don’t feel that they need or deserve help and this is false.”

Second year art major Cloey Klingler said her eating disorder manifests in the form of not liking what she sees in the mirror and not allowing herself to eat. 

“When I’m around people I don’t know very well, I have a tendency to just not eat,” Klingler said. “When I’m out in public, I usually will not eat. I will feel guilty about eating, no matter the amount or no matter the frequency of it. It’s something that I struggle with every day.”

Elise said she hopes more people realize the variety within eating disorder diagnoses.

“It’s not just bulimia,” Elise said. “It’s not just eating disorders where you want to be skinny … the ones where the body wastes away. I want people to know that there are more disorders out there that may take many forms and they should acknowledge all of them, especially in the media.”

Elise shared how she first realized she had a problem. 

“When I was younger, I would skip a meal, which doesn’t really sound like an issue,” Elise said. “But I would do it all the time. I would binge when I went home. I fell into a binge-restriction pattern.”

Klingler said they believe their eating disorder stems from a fear of disappointing people, overthinking and from being critiqued by their family. 

“I first started noticing it around fourth grade, because that was around when my family would start nitpicking me eating,” Klingler said. “Over time, it got to the point where they weren’t just nitpicking what I was eating or how much, they would nitpick the way I looked, and then be like, ‘you should eat less, you should stop eating’ and things like that.”

Klingler said they have had some success working on their disorder through journaling. She emphasized the elements of her eating disorder that are less visible than others.

“I wish more people knew that it’s not just about eating more or eating less, it’s a lot more complicated than that,” Klingler said. “It’s not just, ‘oh, everything will be fixed if I just eat.’ In order to get yourself to that point to eat, there’s a lot of mental strain that goes in it. There’s a lot of physical strain that goes into it and a lot of people don’t understand. Telling people, ‘hey, just eat’ or ‘hey, just stop eating.’ It’s not okay and it doesn’t help.”

Klingler said when it comes to supporting those with eating disorders, it’s important to hold space in a non-judgmental way.

“If their friend is confiding in them, do it judgment free,” Klingler said. “I found that I’m a lot more comfortable with people if they’re willing to listen to me, as well as not judging me for what I eat or how much I eat. If I do need to eat, they offer to go and eat too.”

According to Shaw, treating eating disorders requires a “multifaceted” approach and she recommended combining the support she offers with mental health counseling.  

“Eating disorders are technically mental health issues,” Shaw said. “I tend to work mostly with students starting to recognize connections between their emotions/thoughts and their food behaviors and working to separate them, addressing the root of the cause of the behaviors and working to redirect them. Oftentimes, students are shocked at how little we end up actually talking about food/nutrition, since most of the issues stem from what they are thinking about the food, not the food itself.”

Elise said she copes with her eating disorder by using positive self talk and reshaping her relationship to food.

“It’s mostly recognizing that I am enough,” Elise said. “Recognizing that I’m strong and able to deal with things. I’m currently trying to practice food and clothing neutrality. Overall, I think I’m in recovery, since it’s been a while [six months] since I’ve relapsed. I actually am in a nutrition class right now because I wanted a different perspective on food. We see food as nourishment rather than food as something that’s good or bad.”

Elise recommended finding support from other people and being brave when seeking treatment.

“​​Don’t be afraid, just don’t be afraid,” Elise said. “You are enough. Make sure to reach out to other people. I know that that’s often hard, the hardest part, but once you do, you’ll feel so much better.”

Klingler said support from her boyfriend helps her cope with her disorder, and similarly, Elise expressed how the people around her play a role in her health.

“I depend a lot on my friends for support and for feeling whole sometimes,” Elise said. “Depending on others for support is great, but one should not always depend on others. One should be able to depend on oneself. I’m working on building that myself. It’s like a house that’s partially finished, it’s come a long way.”

Elise recommended accompanying people with eating disorders out for a meal.

“Take them out to dinner, be around them,” Elise said. “I have this thing where if I want to eat something and I know I’m going to have an issue eating it, I share with another person immediately. I feel so much better because my brain goes, ‘oh that person is eating that, I can too.’”

According to Shaw, there is one simple question students can ask themselves to gauge whether they need support.

If anyone is wondering if they should seek help, my best question to ask someone is ‘are you comfortable with your food intake?’” Shaw said. “If your answer to that is no, then it’s never a bad idea to reach out for help or just to have a chat with me or a counselor.”

Services for students struggling with eating disorders are available through Nutrition Counseling in the Student Medical Building and through Student Counseling in Black Hall. Shaw additionally said she is an advocate for students to see primary care physicians through Student Medical Services on campus for additional treatment. 


Student Medical and Counseling Services: 509.963.1881

Wellness Center in SURC 256: 509.963.3213

National Eating Disorder Association: