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K-State Today

January 24, 2017

The Body Project: Equipping students to resist unhealthy appearance ideals

Submitted by Dianna Schalles

Body Project logo

Empowering college students to think healthy and respect body diversity in themselves and others is the ideal when it comes to body image. That concept is the focus of a nationally acclaimed program being implemented at Kansas State University by the Wildcat Wellness Coalition. 

The peer-led program, through a series of oral, written and behavioral activities, asks participants to challenge the appearance-ideal standards of our culture. The Body Project is proven to reduce eating disorder risk factors in its participants.

"Body dissatisfaction is a risk factor that may trigger the onset of eating disorders in susceptible individuals," said Dianna Schalles, coordinator of nutrition counseling at Lafene Health Center and Body Project co-chair. 

The evidence-based program for college-aged females was originally developed by Carolyn Becker, professor of psychology at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and Eric Stice, senior research scientist at Oregon Research Institute. To date, the program has been used by more than 100 higher education institutions and delivered to more than 200,000 students across North America. 

As a registered dietitian and co-chair of the K-State Eating Disorders Team, Schalles has seen firsthand the impact on the lives of students who struggle with disordered eating and body image. "When I became aware the Body Project training was available to campuses nationwide, I knew it was something we needed to offer at K-State," Schalles said.    

Staff from Counseling Services, Lafene and K-State Recreational Services, partner organizations of the Wellness Coalition, have teamed up to offer the training to student peer groups such as WellCAT Ambassadors, Rec Trainers and PAWS — Peer Advocates for Mental Wellness and Success. The peers then lead the Body Project with fellow students. 

Ultimately, the success of the program relies on the peer volunteers who commit to a two-day, 16-hour training and delivery of the workshops.

"We as staff have been blown away by the dedication and passion the peers have shown for the program. They have been amazing and will definitely be the driving force in changing the conversation on our campus," Schalles said. 

"An increasing number of college-age students are experimenting with unhealthy diets and body dissatisfaction. Eating disorders in general have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and the longer they go untreated, the lower the chance of recovery," said Wendy Barnes, Body Project co-chair and Counseling Services outreach coordinator.  

The Body Project features two, two-hour sessions that focus on a variety of topics, including resisting the appearance ideal standard of beauty; embracing the healthy ideal; reducing body dissatisfaction and embracing all of the non-appearance aspects of participants and their peers.

Regardless of the severity level, disordered eating can affect a student's health, academic goals and relationships. The Body Project can help students resist unrealistic body standards of our culture, and free them to focus on healthier, more productive pursuits.

Expanding the program to benefit as many students as possible has required a team of several Student Life members of the Wildcat Wellness Coalition. Schalles and Barnes are joined by advisory planning committee members Laurie Wesely, K-State Eating Disorders Team co-chair and Counseling Services associate director and Julie Gibbs, director of Lafene Health Promotion. Vital to successful implementation are peer liaisons Jenny Yuen and Megan Katt, from Health Promotion; Megan Maransani, from Rec Services; and Melissa Miller from Counseling Services, who were recently certified to lead annual peer trainings. Each peer liaison is an advisor for their respective organization's student peer educators, enabling more expansive outreach across campus.

Sign up for spring 2017 workshops online

Faculty are encouraged to consider offering extra credit as an incentive to students who may benefit from participating in the program. 

For more information, contact Schalles at 785-532-5240 or Barnes at 785-532-6927.