By Claire Salinas
Shanell Sanders developed an eating disorder at the tender age of 14 to cope with the stress in her personal and family life. On the outside she looked like a normal student, but she struggled with the disorder for years and eventually fought a relapse while living on her college campus.
“I didn’t know purging was an option until I watched a certain episode of Family Guy. I started out thinking, I’m going do this for a while, drop a few pounds and stop.”
What Sanders saw as a temporary fix quickly spiraled out of control, and soon she was purging almost every day.
“I started purging once in a while, not every day, because I was so terrified that my mom would catch me. I even started doing it almost every day and at school.”
Purging didn’t offer Sanders the escape she needed from her demons, and eventually she tried to take her own life.
“I tried to hang myself with belts, but they would break. So my mom was constantly buying me belts for school.”
Two years in from the first time she started purging, Sanders mom stumbled upon her daughter’s losing battle.
“She immediately grabs me by the arms, pulls me and starts crying asking, ‘What are you doing?’”
After being sent to the Charity Hospital in Houma for treatment, Sanders began to see a psychiatrist who would ultimately save her life.
“My psychiatrist changed my life and he made me feel like I could be honest with anyone. I felt like I couldn’t talk to my friends about anything and that I had nothing in common with them. I made a friend with Dr. Hill, I saw him most of my junior year and then right before I graduated high school he retired. He basically saved my life.”
After spending time with Dr. Hill in therapy Sanders became stabilized and even began to enjoy life again. It wasn’t until the stress of college life, coupled with stressful family issues hit that Sanders faced a relapse while living on campus.
“When I relapsed, I was still living in the dorms. My roommate had no idea, and I wanted to keep it that way. When you’re forced to be around people, you don’t really get alone time to recoup. Acting like everything is fine when you’re not gets pretty exhausting after a while.”
According to the LSU Health Center’s dietician, Vanessa Richard, the triggers for eating disorders are superfluous on a college campus.
“It can be challenging to have meals at the dining hall or at different food outlets if someone is fearful of eating in front of others or afraid of how foods are prepared. Often when there is a sense of loss-of-control with eating, for example if someone is struggling with binge eating, being presented with a vast number of food options in the dining hall can be triggering to that person.”
Sander’s plight was not obvious to those around her since she seemed to be happily involved in her studies and extra-curricular activities.
“I was hiding a big part of myself from everyone, but the stress of school was just too much. I was pretty involved on campus my first year, and I was under a lot of pressure with my grades. I felt like I was losing control of myself.”
According to Richard it is typical for high achievers to struggle with eating disorders.
“Often individuals with disordered eating are high achievers. As important as it is, making time for eating can be a challenge. It can be difficult for students to plan meals and meet their individual nutrition around ever changing and busy schedules. If students are not in class, they are likely working, volunteering, or involved in a co-curricular activity of some kind.”
After seeking treatment for her relapse through her university counseling center and group counseling Sanders was finally able to come to a place where she could accept her body as it was.
“It got to the point where I was looking in the mirror and saying my body is fine as long as I’m healthy that’s the important part.”
Dr. Rachel Stokes the Eating Disorder Treatment Team, Coordinator at the LSU Health Center reminds people that developing a healthy body image means learning how to treat yourself right.
“It’s not about creating a false positive about your body, it’s about accepting, caring for and loving the body you have.”
After all her struggles Sanders has finally come to a point where she feels happy and healthy.
“I’m healthy and have muscle tone and I don’t feel sick all the time. I look in the mirror and I’m okay with what I’m seeing.”