Collaboration between Kayla Brooks and Jasmine Youngblood
MARTIN, Tenn. -- For many young adults, college is their first taste of real freedom.
They get the chance to grow and experiment. Too often, experimentation can lead to something more complicated.
Some students might experiment with dieting. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) says 35% of those students will progress past "normal" dieting, and the habits will become more critical.
The strict guidelines can develop into an eating disorder.
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, hosted by NEDA, is February 22-28. They hope to educate people, spread messages of hope and show people resources they need.
According to the Mayo Clinic, eating disorders relate to "persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function."
Those disorders include but are not limited to anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and orthorexia.
Red-flag symptoms might include fluctuations in weight, an overall obsession with food or working out, skipping meals, feeling cold all the time and withdrawal from friends and family, NEDA said. They caution eating disorders can often go unnoticed.
University of Tennessee at Martin Student Health and Counseling Services Coordinator Jenifer Hart says eating disorders are not black and white. People with pre-existing anxiety or depression are more likely to face an eating disorder.
"[People with anxiety] will try to eat and then get nauseous because of the stress level," Hart said.
Hart said the best way to spread awareness is simply to be aware.
"Just starting the conversation. 'Are you okay?'"
Recovery from an eating disorder can take years. According to NEDA, there are five stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.
A UT Martin student who struggled with anorexia nervosa said recovery is being able to challenge unhealthy thoughts. She asked to keep her identity anonymous.
"Recovery for me looks like being able to live in the present moment and enjoy day-to-day life without anxiety. Without thinking about numbers, or your weight, or food, or anything," she said.
She said she has developed a love for food.
"It's so cool when you’re branching out of when you were sick and finding the things that you love again."
Student Health and Counseling Services offers mental health screenings online. The surveys are anonymous but can provide resources if it detects an issue.
If you or someone you love exhibit symptoms of an eating disorder, visit the National Eating Disorder Association's website or make an appointment with UT Martin's Student Health and Counseling Center.