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Her Interview: Students Promoting Eating disorder Awareness and Knowledge

This week, we were fortunate enough to interview Christina Bargelt about her involvement with SPEAK. An organization at the University of Utah that helps promote awareness of eating disorders and body image issues. Christina is a member of SPEAK and has a lot of information on what you can do to promote body positivity and get how to get involved on campus. 

What does SPEAK stand for?

“SPEAK is an acronym for Students Promoting Eating disorder Awareness and Knowledge.”

What is SPEAK and what does this organization do?

We are a diverse group of University of Utah students, health care professionals, and community members from many different educational backgrounds. Our mission is to promote awareness of eating disorders and body image issues through educating diverse populations, developing strategies for prevention, providing resources for treatment, and conducting relevant research.

How did you get involved with SPEAK?

I first heard about SPEAK when the last president, Ester Okang, came to educate the freshman at SWOOP Camp 2015 about on-campus opportunities. She mentioned she was involved with SPEAK, and I thought to myself, “Christina, this is your moment.” I was very outspoken about eating disorder awareness in high school, and I wanted to continue that in college. This cause is near and dear to my heart as a two-time eating disorder survivor.

What has been your favorite part of working with this organization?

SPEAK, and eating disorder patients in general, teach me about the vitality and strength of the human spirit. The people around me inspire me to seek my personal, optimum wellness. There is suffering all around us, but to me, the saddest form is self-inflicted. Eating Disorders are so hard to talk about. Societally, we shy away from it, and it is like pulling teeth to get a conversation started. However, it is so important! I hated myself so much that I wanted to die by painstakingly starving and abusing my body everyday. I wasted so much of my life wanting to be something different for society, and even if I achieved it, society wasn’t going to care. It was never going to be enough. I was never going to be enough. SPEAK reminds me that I don’t have to live like that. Through my presidency, I learn better ways to be healthy and happy, and I get the wonderful opportunity to help people love themselves.    

How many members do you have?

We currently have around twenty members.

How do students get involved?

You can submit your information through our website, or you can contact me anytime. Your involvement doesn’t have to be big. I realize that even contacting a group such as ours can be a really hard thing to do. Eating disorders are a daunting topic, but we appreciate any support or participation we can get.

Why is it important to have an Eating Disorder Awareness Week?

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week or Love Your Body Week, as we call it in SPEAK, is about accepting and celebrating your body. Culturally, we are inundated with images of ideals and all the ways we aren’t like those ideals. I don’t know very many people that don’t have low self-esteem or body dimorphic tendencies. We all have something we don’t like about ourselves. This week is about acknowledging the things we don’t like about ourselves, how we can move past those, both individually and societally, and also realizing the amazing things that our bodies do for us every day. This issue won’t go away. According to NEDA, “in the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life”, and that’s 30 million too many. People think this is just a women’s issue, but the aforementioned statistic says otherwise. There are so many honorable causes in our world, but how we treat and feel about ourselves affects every aspect of our lives. Putting an end to negative body talk and eating disorders should be a societal priority.    

Do you have tips for recognizing eating disorders and helping friends and family who struggle with eating disorders?

In terms of symptoms to recognize, there are a few common ones:

  • Obsessive preoccupation with food
  • Ritualistic eating practices
  • Social withdrawal
  • Hesitancy to eat around others
  • Binge and purge behaviors (ex. large amounts of food disappearing, extended trips to the bathroom after meals)
  • Food hoarding
  • Baggy clothing or more layers in order to hide the body or deal with constant chills
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Excessive use of gum or mints
  • Tooth decay

I realize watching a family member, friend, or even yourself waste away because of an eating disorder can be excruciatingly painful. I think the most important role of a friend or family member is to be supportive. Don’t encourage your friend’s disordered eating, but don’t make them feel uncomfortable. They will come to you when they’re ready. I strongly believe that, similar to addiction, people with eating disorders will not get the will to live and love themselves again quickly or from anyone else. It is a self-driven recovery. Dually, I think that eating disorder patients turn a corner of declining health rather rapidly and that’s when it is time to intervene. You will know the difference when you see it.  

What tips can you give to people to promote self-esteem and body positivity?

Take it day by day and don’t be too hard on yourself. Changing habits and effecting true change takes time. I would say the first step is to remove any negative body talk from your environment. All too often I see that scene from Mean Girls unfold where all the Plastics are around the mirror in Georgina’s room ridiculing themselves in real life. Don’t buy into that. If an outside source says something unkind about your character or your body, you look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you’re beautiful. There is no one else like you in this entire world and that’s something to be celebrated. Be kind to those around you not for the sake of accolades, but because it is the right thing to do. I think people get down on themselves a lot and tend to feel invisible, but if you can empathize with them, and say something to let them know that you’re there for them, we can move towards a better, kinder society.

What events are happening this week?

Intuitive Eating Workshop

Wednesday, March 1st at 1 pm

HPR North Foods Lab (Room 227)

Heart Centered Yoga

Friday, March 3rd at 7:30 pm

Centered City Yoga

926 East 900 South

For more information check out their website and facebook page. 

All photos can be found on the SPEAK facebook page. 

I am a current journalism student at the University of Utah. I have spent my years in college studying, traveling, and writing. I am a campus writer for the University of Utah and have my own blog Beautiful Detour. If I am not on campus I am hopefully off in another country meeting new people...or lying in my bed under a million blankets watching that day's netflix binge.
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