*Content warning: This episode contains personal experiences with disordered eating habits and body image concerns.
MaryGrace is joined by Meaghan Travis (she/her), a group exercise instructor at UREC. Meaghan shares disordered behaviors often seen in gym culture and within the fitness community that lead to eating disorders and negative body image. They also discuss the perils of body and muscle dysmorphia.
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Be Well, Dukes!
MGJ: Welcome to the well Dukes podcast, this is MaryGrace and I am your host again today. We will be talking a little bit about eating disorders, focusing on the body dysphoric disorder that we see college students and how to really notice it not only in yourself but in your loved ones as well. We have a very special guest with us today and I will go ahead and let her introduce herself.
Meaghan: Hello! My name is Meaghan and I use She/Her pronouns. Currently I am a senior here at JMU. I'm actually a music major, which is kind of funny because, at the same time as that I'm also an active member of the UREC team. I am a group x instructor, I teach a number of different formats, hiit, yoga, cycle, barre, to name a few. And I'm also one of the group ex managers.
MGJ: We are so excited to have you. If you haven't taken a class with Meaghan I highly suggest it because she's by far one of my favorite instructors that I've been able to have here. We are going to talk a little bit about how eating disorders impact students on our campus. How they impact college students, and being able to really dive a little bit deeper into what we need to be on the lookout for. We're going to start a little bit with body dysmorphic disorder, and this is a mental health problem, it is a common misconception that eating disorders have to do with, you know, just wanting control or just wanting to look better. But, eating disorders really are a mental health problem, and if you are struggling with body dysmorphic disorder or, a lot of times we just hear it as body dysmorphia. You may be upset at the way that your body looks, you might get in the way of how you live normally on a day to day basis. It's something that is controlling your mind, to the extent that it feels compulsive or It feels like you just can't stop thinking about that one flaw that you perceive in your body. I think this is something that a lot of times fosters on a college campus because we are so used to comparing ourselves to one another. there's definitely a piece of this, where not only are we worried about body dysmorphic disorder but there's muscle dysmorphia as well so I think that's something that within gym, culture, we're seeing in men more often were, you know, they feel like they're not big enough. And I would just love to hear how you've seen this within the rec center or within the lives of your loved ones.
Meaghan: Absolutely! I mean, and I'm sure you've seen this too but as someone who is at UREC for like good portions of the week, kind of, longer stretches of hours because it'll be in between shifts or in between, something or another where you just kind of hang out in the building. One of the biggest things that I always see is that there are certain people who just come in and out of UREC all the time and are constantly using the fitness center or running on the track or whatever else it might be. So I feel like that is something that happens a lot and I see a lot of and does strike a bit of concern and me, obviously I don't know their intentions I don't talk to them first hand so I can't necessarily make assumptions, but it does kind of hit close to home because I know when I struggled with my own issues that was something that I often partook in was just always being in UREC, but always actively exercising while in the building. And then, I don't know. The other thing that I feel like we often see on the topic of is muscular dysmorphia. There are plenty of Gym guys within the fitness culture. I don't want to say industry because I don't know that they're professionals or anything but just kind of within that realm. Whenever I talked to them, they'll always mentioned something about like one particular muscle, they wish stuck out more like they want to be leaving, oh I can't eat that because I am in my cut right now blah blah blah so all of these particular, just like little things that are brought up in conversation, always kind of give that idea to me that there's some sort of dysmorphia that's being presented there because obviously when I look at them I don't notice any of these things but when they look at themselves in the mirror that's kind of all that they see.
MGJ: Yeah, and something that we talked about a little bit earlier.
While we were prepping for this was just the idea that eating disorders happen on a spectrum. And that's something that I kind of want to highlight here because body dysmorphia would be where you know you're constantly struggling and only thinking about these things and it's taking up a lot of your day, trying to either exercise or make sure that your body aesthetically looks one way or another. That starts with those little pieces of seeing yourself in the mirror and the negative self-talk that we say to ourselves or possibly even outside factors like having been bullied or teased because of weight or because of some things specific within your body. I have done some research on how gym culture, and social media even perpetuates this, and these disorders, this perpetuates disordered behaviors. I found one statistic that showed that the percentage of men who are dissatisfied with their overall appearance is about 43%, and that has nearly tripled in the past 25 years. So nearly as many men are struggling with those same issues of body image, and obviously we know that not everyone experiences this, and there are a lot of people who could come to the gym and just work out because they know it's healthy for them they know that that's what their body needs, and to keep it going to gain that energy, but there is kind of a line that is a gray area, when it comes to overtraining or trying to make sure that you look aesthetically pleasing. I definitely think that that's something that it's hard to know when you're getting close to that line.
Meaghan: Yeah, that's so true. I feel like, in addition to that, it's also so normalized to kind of talk about these things and to be dissatisfied with our bodies. I mean you can chalk it up to diet culture or to kind of like the fitness industry as a whole, it's, I want to say it's like a $3 million $3 billion industry like it makes a lot of money and the way that it continues to make money is through promoting kind of dissatisfaction with people's natural bodies and feeling like we need to invest in certain things within the industry to better ourselves, quote on quote, when in reality, like our fitness has nothing to do with our appearance like fitness just being our ability to kind of keep up with the lives that we live and our bodies physical capabilities of doing the things that we want to do, and it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how lean we are, how little or much body fat percentage or lean muscle mass we are.
MGJ: That’s really great point that you make because you have Health at Every Size and just because you're not within the given realm of what is societally accepted, doesn't mean that you're not still healthy, and that you're not still moving your body to gain the, natural benefits that come from that getting endorphins and the more you move your body, the more that you have that energy to move your brain and keep it going throughout the day. specifically, muscle dysmorphic disorder is a preoccupation with not being sufficiently muscular or lean, when it's not actually the case, and that's definitely something that sports ,wrestling, bodybuilding gyms like they're kind of the breeding ground for that and I also think that there's an area where we need to understand that UREc might also be a breeding ground for that. So we also know that Urec has a lot of young men who are maybe in that body building phase, and so they are, you know, it's a subculture in it for sure and like no lifting like Arnold and, oh, like the classics the steroids like those are the things we always think of. But in reality, normal bodybuilding doesn't have a distorted body image, and that's the big difference. So understanding that, you know, you might have goals that you want to reach and that's a great thing. you might, you know, be taking supplements and wanting to get your body fat down for a competition, or you know if that's something that you're really into, then you don't need a reason other than just you know yourself that you want to do it and you want to reach this goal. I think the biggest difference is that muscle dysmorphia shows this preoccupation with muscles that are maybe two puny or you know you.
You're rigidly working your life around. Okay, so when am I going to go to the gym When am I going to eat these four meals I'm eating a day or what am I taking my supplements and those can all be good things as long as it's not an obsessive, time consuming situation that you've gotten yourself into which once again is on a spectrum.
Meaghan: Yeah, no, absolutely. And, I mean, you've kind of touched on this but like the control aspect is one of the big things that like, Obviously this exists on a spectrum and eating disorders aren't only about controlling your intake and whatever else.
But there is a large percentage of the bodybuilding community that when given the opportunity like just after a competition or whatever else it might be.
They really struggled to kind of let go of the strict regimen that they had in place and to let go of that control, which I mean, that kind of tells me that this is more of a disordered thing than just them wanting to do this as a personal goal.
And it's so much more common than people think it is like, it's nothing to be ashamed of. It's just unfortunate how common it is because I know it's also painful to go through.
MGJ: This is something where we need to remember that it's a good idea to check in on your friends, and see how they're doing. It's a great idea to notice when these patterns or disordered behaviors start showing up and just really question the intention behind why we're doing what we are. I think that's where we really see the difference between that control piece of needing it to be something that feels compulsive to us, it feels like we just can't stop.And that only gets more intense, the more we feed into those and allow ourselves to go further without seeking help. Do you have any advice for someone who maybe is noticing those patterns and at what point maybe they should get help?
Meaghan: I'm assuming that they're noticing them in themselves. I think that the advice that I would give is to try and stop using these things on your own, try to disrupt the patterns because if you're noticing that this is a pattern, knowing is the first step. And then the second step is actually doing something about it. And if you're unable to break that pattern by yourself, totally okay nothing to be ashamed of. But that would be the point at which I would reach out, either to maybe just your friend at first or to family members or going higher up and getting professional support from either a therapist, maybe registered dietitian, someone who has a background in the training to treat this issue.
MGJ: Yeah, and that is a great way for me to segue into the fact that we have the hope team on campus. So this consists of a registered dietitian, we have a Counseling Center involved to work on that psychological assessment and therapy. There's also a medical professional that we have in the University Health Center. And we also have fitness and wellness, so kind of easing back into that exercise piece as well. So each of those are resources, overall, they're called the hope team. If you're noticing those patterns within yourself. Another thing that I want to touch on would just be compulsive exercising. So, separate from body dysmorphia Where were you know looking at ourselves and like really ruminating over, maybe one thing or an area of our body, compulsive exercise is more so, where people are struggling with symptoms of significant where someone is struggling with, exercising, to the extent that it significantly interferes with the important activities in their lives, or it occurs in inappropriate times when they should be in class and they're skipping to go to the gym or the individual continues to exercise despite injury or other medical complications, or even like using exercise as a way to like burn calories or purging, essentially, and this is not one of the like clinically diagnosed, eating disorders, but it is also a prominent concern for those who might be partaking in it. So, Meaghan I know that you shared, at one point, you were, you know, you're always in the gym which makes sense when you work here but you really did feel that compulsive need to be exercising the whole time that you were in the gym.
Would you mind walking us through that mindset?
Meaghan: When I was going through kind of struggling with fighting with an exercise addiction or just feeling a need to constantly compulsively exercise, be in the gym, or even outside going for runs just for as long as I could. A lot of it for me. I told myself that it was for stress relief purposes because I was worried about school or I was worried about things going on with my family, or anything like that. And when I was exercising I felt that that was the time where my brain could kind of shut off. So I would just go and go and go and, like I wouldn't want to stop because I wouldn't want to kind of get back to reality. And I also would often skip class to go to UREC and the Hangout in the fitness center and just do all of the different lifts all the time. And at a certain point, like, I began to understand that it wasn't just me having physical goals and wanting to do something physically whether that be a PR, or hitting a certain weight or whatever it else, whatever else it might be, but instead it was more just like in the same way and as addictions to substances you kind of just do it, and you don't think twice about it it's more just, I have to and now it's a habit and now I'm stuck in this loop, but I can't stop. And it is very difficult to break out of. But it's not impossible.
MGJ: It's not impossible, that is absolutely right, it doesn't mean that it will be easy but this is something that really takes away from the full enjoyment of life, it can start to consume those pieces of yourself that you really enjoyed are the parts of exercise that you've really enjoyed the parts of eating. One of the eating disorders that I would just want to touch on here which is be avoidant restrictive food intake disorder so that typically is when someone kind of narrows down what they are eating and they start to really rotate their day around like okay, what am I eating, When am I eating, I can't go out to dinner with friends because I don't want to eat this. That's one of the eating disorders that I don't think we hear about as often. You know we hear about anorexia or bulimia or even binge eating, I feel like those are things that we have heard in our society by this point and so you think that until you meet the criteria of one of those that you're not experiencing disordered eating. But there's also a category of otherwise specified eating, or feeding disorders. And that kind of encompasses this wide range like this spectrum of eating disorders. So if you think that you know you or a loved one might be experiencing this. Some of the symptoms of it would be, you know, self esteem is overly related to body image or evidence of binge eating, big episodes of consuming a large amount of food followed by behaviors where you're maybe just not eating for a while or you are inducing like a purging aspect to that in some way. these are just little things that I think start to happen, start to creep into your life, and thank you need to be discussed they need to be talked about, you know, and I think that's something that throughout the podcast today we've been able to kind of touch on and like show some of the examples of maybe what there is to look out for, but do you have any tips of what a college student could look out for whether that be in themselves, or within a friend. When it comes to eating disorders, and possibly even that like compulsive exercise?
Meaghan: I would say, I mean, when it comes to food, some of the common things that would kind of stick out for college students, whether it be for like seeing this in yourself or seeing this in a brand is kind of that reluctance to go out, or to eat out, or even just get drinks out for the purpose of not wanting to consume these things, and whether it be from a place of restricting all food or just restricting certain foods so one category of otherwise specified, whatever it is, But one of the sub categories of the overarching eating disorder that we didn't talk about is orthorexia, which isn't technically in the DSM five, but it's more of an obsession with kind of this quote unquote clean eating.
So, only wanting to eat very specific foods that are very pure and that we see as the healthiest of the healthy and really refusing to kind of branch out from that is a huge thing that I feel like is very praised but it's actually a sign that someone might really be struggling so that's another thing to kind of be on the lookout for. And then in terms of exercise I mean I sort of covered like if you attempt to stop or if something comes up and that takes a toll on you and you really can't stop doing your normal regimen on your own then maybe it's time to seek help elsewhere. In addition, I would say, emphasizing to yourself the importance of rest is for your body is something that makes it a little bit easier to get yourself to stop because ultimately our body is not meant to be in a constant state of motion all the time it does need to rest and to recover sometimes. And that does mean, potentially, taking full days off from doing any movement or taking full weeks off from doing any movement if that's what it takes to get back to a place where your energy levels are kind of more normalized.
MGJ: That was a great overview of the goal of this episode. And I love that you were even able to bring up orthorexia and diet culture I think is really something that feeds into this one. And it's better to have a well rounded healthy diet than follow a fad diet. I think there's a difference between dieting and having a healthy diet, and I just wanted to point that piece out. Before we begin to wrap up, but Meaghan, can you provide some of the resources that you would suggest like within UREC for someone who wants to know how to have a healthy relationship with exercising?
Meaghan: We can start with the health promotion program area as a whole. I'm sure it would be very useful for that. Additionally, our fitness/personal training team has a number of different classes or one on one, opportunities where you can work with other college age individuals who have experience with exercise and can kind of help make you more familiar with it and do self coming from a healthy place, as are our motto says that we're trying to motivate people and we're not trying to make anyone down and then of course you know shameless self plug here Group X is my favorite way
of getting in movement and it's great for building that community and because it's kind of it's a one hour structured class at most an hour, and you're under the supervision of an instructor who, All of us have a very healthy outlook on movement and just are doing it because it's fun. That would be my, my highest recommendation is to come check us out.
MGJ: Yes, absolutely. And my fun question for you is going to be really close to that. So, what is your favorite group x class at UREC?
Meaghan: Geez, my favorite class to take might be either step or cardio dance party, because it's just so much fun. And then my favorite class to teach would have to be yoga, just because Yoga is what I started with, and it's a wonderful way to just move without it being too high intensity and to kind of practice doing fun, from a place of curiosity, and with a mindset of intention rather than just doing it for the purpose of doing it.
MGJ: Yes, I would say my favorite class, definitely some vinyasa flow yoga, that's, That's where I like to really thrive. And it also gives that mind-body connection which I really love as well. Being able to be in tune with my body and know how I am feeling and how to best serve myself whether that be through exercise, what i eat or consume and the way that I just move my body everyday. So Meaghan, thank you so much for being a part of this podcast today and sharing here.
You will be able to find links to all the resources mentioned here in the description and if you don't already follow us on Instagram you can find us @JMUUREC, for some great information on all the fun things we are doing here at UREC. thank you for tuning in and thank you for listening to our podcast, until then, be well dukes!