Healthy Relationships with Food and Substances

The Campus Context

Centre for Addictions Research of BC, Canadian Mental Health Association BC Division and Jessie’s Legacy Program

Reprinted from "Body Image" issue of Visions Journal, 2016, 12 (1), p. 25

Like sex and other feel-good things in life, food and psychoactive (mind-altering) substances change the way people feel. While food and substances have benefits, they can also lead to health and social problems—in all areas of life, including campus life. University and college campus members’ choices about food and substances are influenced by many factors, including academic pressure, financial status, mental health, access (to food and substances), the built environment (e.g., the residences, dining halls, classrooms and walkways) and campus policies. These factors can have both positive and negative impacts. For example, eating or using substances to cope with stress can initially provide some relief, but it can also become increasingly less effective and lead to problems.

Over the past two years, the Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC), Jessie’s Legacy eating disorders prevention and awareness (JL) and the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division (CMHA BC) have engaged with BC post-secondary institutions to explore issues related to substance use and eating on campus. The goal is to help post-secondary institutions move forward and define how CARBC, JL, and CMHA BC might help do that.

There was agreement that campus members (employees and students) experience a variety of relationships with food and substances. These can include challenges around accessing and preparing healthy food, pressure to attain an idealized body image, and more extreme experiences of food restriction. Food restriction includes eating only those foods deemed very healthy (orthorexia) or limiting food intake to compensate for added calories from drinking (often dubbed “drunkorexia”).

Campus community members noted a need to gain a better understanding of what a healthy relationship with food and substances looks like, how healthier choices can be made more available and accessible, and how social support and responsibility can be enhanced. Promising proposals include mentoring, delivering appealing and useful messages, encouraging conversations and engagement in dialogue, and monitoring how policies can improve conditions and facilitate positive choices.

We hope conversations will continue. CARBC, JL and CMHA BC wish to invite campus members to share their ideas and experiences with us by contacting Tim Dyck at tdyck@uvic.ca.

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