Light the Night at UF: Eating Disorders Awareness

University of Florida’s Student Government Affairs hosted a candle lighting in Plaza of the Americas Thursday evening to bring light to eating disorders for the campus.

As bright candles lined a dark quadrant of Plaza and soft acoustic guitar complemented the evening’s subtle gathering, tables represented by GatorWell and AWARE welcomed students to learning about the care they are happy to give.

Psychologist Ernesto Escoto shared some words with the crowd of about 30 students gathered, as well as Kelly Ulmer, a UF Health mental health counseling intern, and Julia Branton, a student who spoke about her experience with an eating disorder.

"In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from diagnosable eating disorders,” Ulmer said, sharing statistics on the situation.

AWARE, or Awareness Wellness Ambassadors Reaching Everyone, is a program aimed to gather students passionate about helping others with struggles they may face. Haley Ferguson and Lazarus Tejera are two of the student ambassadors who want to talk about body positivity.

“I don’t think (students) are well-aware about (body positivity) at all,” said 20-year-old Tejera on self-image. “Everyone is trying to stick out in a crowd of 50,000.”

Ferguson stresses that although women are mostly affected by lack of a healthy body image, it is important for people to remember that men reap the negative effects from societal pressure as well.

“They may possibly—and not all men—feel a little less comfortable expressing their discomfort with themselves,” said Ferguson, a 19 year-old psychology and women and gender studies major. “It may possibly stop them from coming and getting counseling or seeking help if they do have an eating disorder."

Ferguson and Tejera individually became wellness ambassadors after similar events where they were not accustomed to a new home on campus. They joined AWARE in order to educate others through the power of sharing their own experiences.

According to the two student ambassadors, AWARE has been around for about three years at the Counseling and Wellness Center, offering their help with counseling and stress relief through online resources, apps, massage, puppies and well-being exercises.

After the three speakers addressed their audience, attendees were invited by Branton to write a word on each candle’s paper bag that represented something to them about eating disorders. She chose to write the word “balance."

Julia Branton, a 20 year-old pre-physical major, shares how she overcame her eating disorder after coming to college.