A new club aims to raise awareness and provide support for students facing issues with eating disorders. New this semester, the Eating Disorder Awareness Club (EDAC) is the first eating disorder-related organization at OU. Kristina Dunham, psychology sophomore and the president of EDAC, has dealt with eating disorders herself and sought treatment for those issues. She said she started the club to help others with their struggles and create change.
“I told myself that if I was going to start this, I had to make sure I was in a good place in my own recovery,” Dunham said. “I can’t start this if I wasn’t in a good place, because how can I help others if I can’t help myself? I started EDAC because I’m involved in greek life and I see lots of disordered eating that gets swept under the rug.”
The OU community, Dunham said, was also supportive of this brand new endeavor.
“I think campus lifestyle is really good for advocation in general. I love OU because it’s very positive. It just seemed like the perfect place for (the organization),” Dunham said. “This is such a warm community. I was really attracted to that.”
Dunham said that while EDAC can help those suffering with eating disorders find resources and mutual support, they are not a professional therapy group. She said that she would love if more college campuses had awareness groups like EDAC, since there is such a stigma that surrounds eating disorders.
“One of my goals is to get people to recognize that this isn’t a choice; it’s an illness,” Dunham said.
Cassidy Howland, human relations sophomore, said she joined EDAC because she witnessed the impact it had on some of her friends. Howland attended the club’s first meeting Feb. 5.
Howland said that the meeting was very well-organized, and that the president and other executives of EDAC “did a great job telling us what events we have coming up and preparing us for a fun semester of educating people on eating disorders.”
According to Howland, the awareness club has the capability to help others in a major way. Being able to notice the warning signs in friends, family, or even oneself, could help someone heal much easier. Howland said she would love to see more people become educated and recover from this illness.
“I think it will be an amazing semester and I am excited to get more involved over the years,” Howland said.
While the organization has rather small numbers right now — only 15-20 in all — anyone who wants to join is more than welcome to, according to the vice president Alexa Sheppard, an elementary education sophomore.
“We want people to advocate even if you’re not personally struggling with it,” Sheppard said. “It’s about letting yourself open up to change and be helped.”
Sheppard has personally struggled with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.
“For me, it started really happening at the end of my senior year at high school,” Sheppard said regarding her personal journey with anorexia. “I internalized comments from my family about my weight, and when I started losing weight I got praised for it, so I thought being anorexic was a good thing. I thought I was doing something right because my family accepts me now, and I didn’t want to lose that feeling,” she said.
Due to the lack of parental supervision, Sheppard’s eating disorder worsened upon living in OU’s dorms as a freshman. Eventually, Sheppard’s parents stepped in for an intervention, telling her that if she didn’t enter treatment voluntarily, they would pull her out of school and take her into treatment.
Sheppard didn’t finish the fall 2017 semester. Instead, she went into seven weeks of inpatient treatment after getting an appointment with a doctor in Norman. She returned from treatment during winter break and went on to complete the spring 2018 semester.
“I have all these dates and anniversaries ingrained in my head. I was diagnosed as anorexic on Oct. 31, 2017, and went into treatment on Nov. 10, 2017,” Sheppard said.“One of my mottos is to never lose hope. I just feel like that’s something everyone needs to hang on to, whether you have an eating disorder or you’re just struggling in life — never lose hope is something everyone needs to remember.”