Building Supportive Networks in Sororities to Prevent Eating Disorders

College student

I can vividly remember the moment in college where I acknowledged my eating disorder to my entire sorority. It was also a step for sororities and eating disorders to not be synonymous.

We were doing a bonding exercise, and when it was my turn to speak, my heart and gut told me this was a safe space, that these were trusted people, and that it was okay to let them know I needed help.

My heart and gut were right, they rallied around me, providing personal stories, insight, support, referrals, information, and company. I attribute much of my recovery to these incredible women.

I wish this support for every individual struggling with an eating disorder. Sadly for sororities and eating disorders, research shows this is not currently the case, as 12 to 25% of college-aged women struggle with eating disorders, and sororities seem to be a risk factor for this [1].

One study found that those women that joined a sorority reported a higher drive for thinness compared to the beginning of their school year as well as increased binge-eating associated with the binge-eating level of their friends [2].

Social relationships play an important role in body, eating, and exercise pathology and attitudes.

Regrettably, this often means that social groups play out societal and diet culture ideals of body image and that are exclusionary and harmful, i.e. the relationship between sororities and eating disorders. Sororities, while they engage in many positive and helpful philanthropic endeavors, are more sadly known for doing just this.

The power that these organizations have to perpetuate negative viewpoints can also be wielded for positive change. As one study stated, “although sororities often are studied as social groups that contribute to the development of eating disorders, their organization, and their intense social bonds also make them an ideal target for creating positive change on college campuses, particularly when they can be convinced to operate as one larger unit [2].”

College student reading about Sororities and Eating DisordersOne study examined the possibility of implementing the Sorority Body Image Program on college campuses and found that sororities have numerous avenues and resources that could be used for positive change.

For example, “if sorority leaders endorse a prevention program, they have the ability to encourage broad participation and to reinforce such participation [2].”

Additionally, this study noted that many sororities have houses where, collectively, it would be easier to implement an intervention or change. Finally, “at the national level, sororities also may have the financial resources to support large-scale prevention efforts [2].”

We can all hope that the diet culture will stop perpetuating its harmful and bogus discourse on what women should look or behave like or what makes them valuable, but it’s unlikely they will do so.

True change lies in women coming together to build one another up and to embrace their unique differences as beautiful and valuable. Be that person for your sorority.

Be the one that shines a light on the Health At Every Size movement. Help sororities focus more on the person and less on someone’s appearance, and help them embrace all individuals for who they are.

Be the sister that influences change.


Resources:

[1] Averett, S. Terrizzi, S., Wang, Y. (2016). The effect of sorority membership on eating disorders, body weight, and disordered-eating behaviors. Health Economics, 26:7.

[2] Becker, C. B., Caio, A. C., Smith, L. M. (2008). Moving from efficiay to effectiveness in eating disorders prevention: the sorority body image program. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 15: 18-27.


About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published October 31, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on October 31, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.