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June 9th, 2008
10:43 AM ET

Taking 'The Body Project' to campuses

By Shahreen Abedin
CNN Medical Producer

While researching "The Body Project," an eating disorders prevention program that's seeing remarkable progress so far in an area that has seen few if any truly effective programs at all, I interviewed Carolyn Becker, a psychologist at Trinity University in San Antonio who specializes in eating disorders. 

Becker adapted the program's curriculum specifically to be administered to college-age women by their own peers in sorority houses.  Studies show a reduction of eating disorder risks by 61 percent through The Body Project.  

All the sororities at Trinity have been using the body program since 2001, and Becker says the college adaptation has had results comparable to the original model, which was focused on both high school and college-age women and administered by teachers and counselors. 

The program works by making women recognize how "the thin ideal" - the notion that you need to be skinny to be beautiful – is thrust upon us through media and marketing images.  Then, through acts of "body activism," like leaving "you are beautiful" notes in dieting books and posting similar messages in public restrooms, participants begin to reject the thin ideal for themselves and their own bodies.

According to Becker, we're about to see this project implemented on college campuses on a grand scale, mainly because of the role of Delta Delta Delta (a.k.a. Tri Delta), the national sorority that has rolled out the program in eleven of its chapters so far.  Tri Delta funded the publication of the college-based curriculum, which will be available to any college that wants to use it, and although Becker doesn't have definite numbers, she tells me she conservatively estimates that we'll see the program implemented in at least 20 to 25 college campuses in the 2008-2009 academic year.   

It makes me think about my college days, when I was finally on my own and could make a 2 A.M. fast food run or eat cookie dough for dinner, without having to answer to the parentals.  Now that I think about it, it was one of those first steps of adulthood:  having complete autonomy over my own eating habits. 

How did your college experience shape how you eat as an adult?  Did you basically stick to what you were already doing at home?  Did you put on the 'freshmen fifteen, or was that just a myth for you?  Did you end up losing weight in an effort to conform to aesthetic ideals instilled in us on campus?  Did you feel like you were under a lot more pressure to conform than you were in high school? 

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