Joanne Norell | February 19, 2017
Coming of age in a society obsessed with perfect bodies is tough. Ask nearly anyone on a college campus whether they feel the pressure associated with losing weight, gaining muscle or even just avoiding the "Freshman 15," and you'll likely get a resounding, "Yes!"
That pressure can be just as pronounced -- if not more so -- as a collegiate student-athlete because of the performance indicators attached. One's fitness level could be the difference between a first- or second-place finish, making or missing out on a critical rebound or the ability to fly past a defender on a run to the goal.
Many people are able to cope with these pressures in healthy ways. They eat well and exercise regularly, or pursue their performance goals in steady and methodical ways.
But a significant proportion of the population will not.
The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that, in the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men will experience some kind of "clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life."
University of Notre Dame women's soccer senior Kaleigh Olmsted became interested in the research surrounding eating disorders as early as her freshman year, when she began to see these pressures play out in her life and the lives of those around her. She saw friends and teammates from both high school and college struggling, if not with an eating disorder, then with the societal obsession with body image.
"It always sat very uncomfortably with me," Olmsted said. "You start freshman year `high school skinny' and the talk when you get back (home for the summer) is about who gained the `Freshman 15,' or `She's gotten so fat,' or `He's gotten so big.' It just seems to be such a topic of conversation. They don't know what someone's major is, or whether or not they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, but they know whether or not they gained weight. ... It was a combination of those factors and seeing me degrade myself by not having a positive body image. It took me a while to realize that even if you only say it every once in awhile, it builds up and you're looking at yourself in a negative way. It completely alters the way you look at life."