It can be hard for college students to find time to go to the counseling center and maintain healthy sleeping, eating and exercise habits. This can lead to a high risk of mental health problems.
Body U is an online program designed to help students think differently in order to practice healthy habits to reduce risk of eating disorders, depression and anxiety.
Missouri State University’s Body U student ambassador, graduate student Christie Fletcher, said the program was brought to MSU about a year ago.
“Our mission is to help increase body positivity and awareness in all students and to help them find the resources they need to live a happy, healthy life,” Fletcher said. “It’s a very accessible program that focuses on what you want and need.”
Body U is partnered with the Counseling Center. It is free and available to students who are 18 or older. Students can begin by taking a survey at BodyU.org that screens for risk of eating disorders, anxiety and depression. It then assigns them to a program that is tailored to their needs.
Once enrolled, members can access the program via the internet or an app called Minddistrict, which is the program that runs Body U. The programs are behavioral-based treatment done at the student’s own pace, but they are usually completed in eight weeks. Once enrolled, the student has access to the program for six months.
There are three programs within Body U: Staying Fit, I Care and EveryBody. Staying Fit is for students who are at low risk for eating disorders, depression and anxiety. It helps students practice and maintain healthier eating, sleeping and exercise habits. I Care is for students struggling with or at risk of developing depression and anxiety.
The EveryBody program is the most commonly assigned to students. It is supported by coaches and designed for students who are struggling with or at risk of developing an eating disorder. The coaches are counselors or social workers at Washington University in St. Louis. This program helps students restructure their thoughts to improve eating habits and body image.
Jessica Jakubiak, a clinical psychology student at Washington University, has been an EveryBody coach for seven months. She said her goal as a coach is to provide support and personalize the program. The program allows for a 15-minute phone call with the coach at the beginning and end of the program. Jakubiak uses these phone calls to establish what the student wants to accomplish and what they have learned. The EveryBody program also allows the students and coaches to message each other.
“I want it to be something they can learn from and take with them once the program is over,” Jakubiak said. “As they’re working through the material, I like to have a conversation about it with them and ask them questions to get them to think about it in a different way.”
Fletcher said she did the EveryBody program because she thinks it’s important to be aware of her own body image as a counseling student. The program assigned tasks to help her be more aware of her thoughts when she ate, exercised and looked in the mirror. It allowed her to write down her thoughts and message her coach for improvement.
“It really helps you reframe the way you look at things and see a different perspective,” Fletcher said. “It gives you a chance to think about how you think of yourself and shows you ways to make it more positive. I think the thing it helped me the most with is being aware of my own habits.”
Body U was developed in 2013 by Marie-Laure Firebaugh, a clinical research coordinator at Washington University.
“This program is a good resource for problems that are common among college students,” Firebaugh said. “It is a good resource for students who may not want to go to the counseling center to get help, but we also always encourage students to go to the counseling center if they need further help.”
Body U began as a research project for the National Institute of Mental Health. The project was a study called Healthy Body Image where participants took a screening for eating disorder risk and then went through an eating disorder prevention and treatment program based on over 30 years of research conducted at Stanford University and Washington University. The study tested to see if the program would work, and it received positive results.
The Missouri Eating Disorder Council, whose mission is to teach eating disorder awareness and initiate treatment throughout Missouri, was interested in joining the project, so the council funded Body U in 2016, which uses the same screening and program. The program was first adopted by four universities and is now available to students at every public university in Missouri except Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis. Firebaugh hopes to bring the program there as well.
Only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment, according to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health.
“Our main goal is to offer treatment for eating disorders, because less than 20 percent of people with eating disorders receive treatment,” Firebaugh said. “We know that it’s very prevalent across college campuses. Unfortunately, resources for eating disorders, even outside of college campuses, are scarce.”
Body U and the Counseling Center will host a film screening 6-8 p.m. Sept. 24 in Karls Hall 101. They are screening “The Illusionists,” a film about beauty standards and advertising. Fletcher and Firebaugh will lead a discussion after the film.