Let’s get one thing clear, The Body Project is not about nutrition nor changing your behavior. It’s about body positivity and body image acceptance––the belief that you’re beautiful and powerful no matter what your shape or size is.
The Body Project is a national eating disorder prevention program for young women who report body dissatisfaction. Two years ago, Cecile Adkins, Ed.D., R.D.N., L.D.N., assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics, launched The IU Body Project (IUBP). Several Immaculata nutrition students completed a training course to serve as peer leaders for other female students at IU. This past year, Adkins was pleased to see that the program was attracting other faculty and administrators and students from other majors too.
“This is something that is more than just people focused on food and nutrition. This impacts women, probably all women, at some point in our lives”
“This is something that is more than just people focused on food and nutrition. This impacts women, probably all women, at some point in our lives,” Adkins estimates. She is adamant that the nutrition students who are trained as peer mentors refrain from expounding nutrition advise to participants.
Sessions for IUBP are not a place where people come to be shamed or to be corrected, stresses Adkins. She declares that it should be safe, private and open where everyone feels free to talk. Adkins understands the magnitude of these sessions.
“As a parent, I always try to immerse myself into what my boys were interested in at the time—cars and dinosaurs,” Adkins says with a laugh. But it is with this same thoughtfulness and purpose that she is focusing on issues that our students are interested in—eating disorders and body positivity. Plus, Adkins acknowledges, there is a real need for programs like The Body Project on college campuses.
Jessica Gilpert, director of counseling services and co-leader of IUBP, is exploring additional training so that faculty and administrators can be more versed in recognizing disordered eating and addressing some of the fundamental issues for both students and female athletes.
According to Adkins, Division III colleges like ours typically don’t offer higher profile programs like TBP because there are not enough people to coordinate and run it. However, that’s the beauty of this particular program. Students train to become peer leaders and thus sustain the program internally. From there the university can brand the program for their own use, while still complying with the scripted sessions and updates from The Body Project on a national level. Adkins focused the spring semester on holding virtual sessions so that peer leaders could lead groups with other students who are interested in becoming leaders.
Aside from the obvious, IUBP is beneficial in multiple ways. Peer leaders are honing their leadership skills through facilitating meetings and presentations. Even though students have a set script to follow for the sessions, they gain confidence through the experience and bond with fellow students.
“The most beneficial aspect of the training for me was being able to learn from previous peer leaders,” states current peer leader Madeleine DiAntonio ’23. She discovered IUBP in high school while shadowing a class taught by Adkins. “It is the reason I came to IU,” she adds.
Adult student Katelyn Hollis, who is pursuing a certification in the Didactic Program in Dietetics, also learned about IUBP from Adkins and wanted to participate but was nervous because she is a little older than the traditional-aged student. However, she relates that as a woman, it is so important to have a safe space to feel validated and talk through society’s norms in a way that may truly be different than anything you have ever heard.
“Through the whole process, I kept thinking how I wish this would have been something I was part of during my undergrad”
“Through the whole process, I kept thinking how I wish this would have been something I was part of during my undergrad,” Hollis recalls.
Hollis is not alone. According to Gilpert, at IU along, approximately 80% of female students using our counseling services, have mentioned body image as an issue. Statistics from the National Eating Disorder Association also show that between 10-20% of female college students suffer from an eating disorder, and the NCAA states that a third of female college athletes show symptoms of an eating disorder.
“The IU Body Project is a powerful support for our students struggling with body image issues, but I also see the IU Body Project as a gateway to getting education and support to those struggling with an eating disorder who might be afraid to jump to counseling,” states Gilpert. “It’s a gem of a resource on our campus.” Gilpert arranged for the IU Body Project peer leaders to attend debriefing sessions so they could continue the dialog with a professional, gain additional insight and further strengthen their leadership and facilitation skills.
Future goals for the IUBP include initiating policies and procedures for related issues. In addition, Adkins and the team are creating supplemental events and activities that can further the training and keep the participants engaged. Next year, Adkins and the IUBP team hope to reach additional undergraduate female students by partnering more with the Student Dietetic Association and the Nutrition Education for Athletes (NEFA) team. IUBP is also working to further utilize social media to help build a stronger presence on campus.
When asked what she would tell students interested in joining IUBP, DiAntonio said that the program helps you learn that you are beautiful just as you are, and that the costs of pursuing the thin ideal are not worth the supposed benefits. “There are much more important things in life than the way you look,” she adds.