UNB students work to reduce stigma against eating disorders

There’s still so much society doesn’t realize about eating disorders. Starting Oct. 7, a team of mostly UNB nursing students is starting the It’s Not About Food program, an initiative to educate and offer counselling services to students.

“We’re just raising awareness about eating issues and trying to reduce the stigma associated with it,” said Kendra Craig, a third-year UNB nursing student.

The program started in 2007 through UNB’s counselling services. Now, it’s run by nursing and counselling students. They provide a relaxed and supportive environment where students can come and feel free to open up about their eating issues.

“I feel like it’s something that would be really difficult to go to your parents or your friends about when they have no idea what you’re going through, necessarily,” said Craig.

There are three groups who meet weekly, one co-ed group, and two female-only groups. The leaders of the program decided to separate the groups for girls who didn’t feel comfortable opening up with boys in the room because some of these girls with eating disorders have histories of abuse.

The idea of the co-ed group only started last year. The organizers decided to integrate males into the counselling groups. While not as prevalent as it is in women, 25 per cent of people with an eating disorder are men.

“Boys don’t even get attention when it comes to eating issues. It’s mostly considered a girl’s problem,” said Catherine Moar, another third-year UNB nursing student.

According to Moar and Craig, there aren’t enough resources available for people with an eating disorder. The counselling offered to students through the universities’ health plans only cover six sessions, but often that’s barely enough to scratch the surface of the issues.

It’s Not About Food is a free service offered for students by students, and it’s somewhere to go when students might feel they are running out of options.

“[The program] is just to give someone a comfortable place where they can come and talk about things and be supported and know that they’re not alone,” said Moar.

A big part of the problem with eating disorders is the stigma. People don’t want to admit when they have a problem, and it’s difficult for them to find somewhere to do it safely and comfortably. Moar said there’s a lot of shame associated with having an eating disorder.

“It’s definitely very secretive. People are often ashamed. And we are just trying to reduce that stigma. You don’t have to be ashamed.”

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