Walk around any dorm or dining hall here on campus. Chances are, you’ll hear girls complimenting each other on their appearances, or complaining about how “fat” they are. In a culture so obsessed with dieting and being thin, it’s become the norm to dwell on food and looks, setting unreal standards and going to extremes to look a certain way.
In fact, “an estimated 19 to 30 percent of college females are diagnosed with an eating disorder,” according to “Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention.”
“There’s this obsession with being thin instead of being healthy. People should be learning to love themselves,” said Laura Carr, a second-semester undecided major.
Carr, 18, suffers from an eating disorder. To help herself - and others with similar struggles -she blogs about her life with “Ed” – an insider nickname for “eating disorder” that Laura says comes from the book Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer.
Laura’s blog, called “Learning to Love,” is a journal of sorts. In it, she recounts the events of her day, even sometimes writing about boys she likes and her job at Panera Bread back home in Cumberland, R.I.
However, this is not just some teenager’s LiveJournal. Carr takes pictures of new foods she tries (most notably, the many varieties of protein bars she loves), talks about how she’s feeling and analyzes things that are bothering her. Sometimes, she even tries exercises in dealing with Ed, such as personifying her eating disorder and describing “Laura’s Ed” and “Laura” – two completely different people.
“It makes it more clear to us what (thoughts) are healthy thoughts and what are not healthy thoughts,” Carr said.
Carr’s blog is also much more than her own therapeutic outlet. She has an entire community of followers, many with blogs of their own, which Carr reads, too.
“I’m trying to gain weight. Seeing other people trying to gain weight helps,” she said. “Trying something new can be a big deal for someone with an eating disorder. Sharing it with them gives me encouragement.”
Carr started her blog after reading a dietician’s blog entitled “Eat Like Me,” which was put out by SELF magazine. She commented, asking the blogger if someone with an eating disorder would make a good dietitian – something Carr is interested in pursuing.
Another blogger who commented left a link to their blog. Carr checked it out, and the close-knit community of readers seemed “close and supportive.” She decided to begin blogging so these girls could get to know her story as well.
Carr’s story goes back about three years, to when she was a swimmer following in the footsteps of her older sister.
“I thought, ‘If I’m thinner maybe I can swim better,’ which makes no sense because if you’re starving, how could you swim?” Carr remembered.
In April 2006, she went to see a doctor about bad circulation. That doctor recommended an eating disorder specialist. Carr said she was in complete denial, but she was sent to the hospital and treated for a low heart rate anyway. Since then, she’s been in a constant state of recovery.
“I keep telling myself I can do it. It gets harder as the years go on,” Carr said.
With her blog, Carr is, perhaps unintentionally, shattering stereotypes about eating disorder sufferers – and what it’s really like to be thin, for that matter.
“Being thin does not guarantee you happiness,” Carr said. “ED ruins your life. A lot of people assume eating disorders are just physical, but it’s not at all.”
“It ruins families, friends – it becomes your life. It’s absolutely terrible. The sooner you can get help, the better,” she said.
Ideally, Carr hopes that people will start to realize that this weight obsession isn’t helping anyone.
Many of her friends here at UConn don’t know she has an eating disorder, and Carr admits this can be “pretty difficult.”
“A lot of subtle comments people make about dieting, like, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t eat that,’ or ‘Oh, I should go to the gym,’” really bother her, and “watching TV can be hard. A lot of times I have to change the channel,” she said.
In her blog, which can be found at laura-carr.blogspot.com, Carr often writes that she loves helping people. She hopes that speaking out about eating disorders will enable others to get help, and not to pass judgment so easily on people of all shapes and sizes.
And, she really hopes to continue to help herself.
“I think one of the hardest things is when people compliment the body I have now. It’s not me, it’s the eating disorder,” Carr said.
Although she still struggles with food every day, Carr wants what most people want – for others to look at what’s on the inside.
“This isn’t how I should look. I want to stop looking like my eating disorder and look like Laura. I wish people would stop focusing on looks and focus on the person.”
(Written by Julie Stagis- Staff Writer of University of Connecticut's Daily Campus. )