by Oona Lundgren, Staff Writer, Ocotber 2021
Among the many Nobles hallmarks and traditions returning this fall, FLIK’s triumphant rebound reigns supreme. A bustling panini press line and packed Castle make this school year feel overwhelmingly normal. And yet, the return to a typical Castle menu reignites an important question: is Nobles really eating?
It is no secret that Nobles’ competitive culture puts an immense amount of pressure on students across the board. Nobles is used to winning, and students strive to live up to this stellar reputation. “The level is so high here, and always has been, so there’s so much pressure,” Zach Myers (Class II) said. The constant stress of being at one’s best can put a strain on the mental health of anyone, from starting players to honors students and everyone in between. “It can be stressful, and cause anxiety,” Myers continued. “The pressure of trying to be better than you might be able to can be dangerous.” No matter how often students are urged to take care of their mental health with rest, the motivation to excel is overwhelming and all-consuming. This can be seen with intensity in athletics, especially as recruiting season dawns, as well as academics and extracurriculars done to fill schedules and resumes. “We think that if we’re kind to ourselves, we’ll get lazy and complacent, but the opposite is true,” Director of Counseling and Psychology Jennifer Hamilton said. She added, “If we’re driving ourselves into the ground, we can’t function well.”
Of course, discussion of mental health at Nobles can span a wide variety of struggles worth addressing, but the issue of disordered eating is often overlooked. “The bottom line is that kids who are high achieving or perfectionists are more vulnerable to eating disorders,” Hamilton said. Nobles’s rigor naturally attracts high-performing kids who may find themselves falling prey to the regimented control of disordered eating.
We have access to a wealth of sustenance in the Castle, but nevertheless, eating at Nobles is a game of competition. “Everybody seems to have an opinion on what everybody else is eating,” Mary Connors (Class I) said. “If somebody wants to go get seconds, there can be a little bit of judgment. I might not get something I really want to eat because of that.” Body image and social pressure collide in the Castle and beyond. Even on game days when athletes should be fueling and building strength, the pressure to eat a socially “acceptable” amount of food can override hunger and physical necessity. “Typically, athletes struggle with eating enough of a healthy diet, drinking enough water, and sleeping enough,” Director of Strength and Conditioning Kevin O’Neill said. For students staying active for two or more hours in sports after seven hours of school, eating enough is an absolute necessity.
It doesn’t help that teenagers of the 21st century are inundated with harmful media and unrealistic standards, while the added competition of a high-pressure school environment feeds the flames. “There’s a lot of stigmas at school and outside of school about what a body should look like,” Madi Shaer (Class II) said. Especially in the digital era of COVID-19, social media has played a major role in shaping the lives of teenagers nationwide. This content is all too often a stream of unattainable bodies that can breed insecurity and shame. “I find myself scrolling and thinking, ‘Why do these people seem to have perfect lives and have everything all figured out?’” Connors said. Even if the reality behind the screen is less than perfect, projected appearances have a big impact. Particularly over quarantine, isolation and lack of control over one’s life led to a frightening jump in disordered eating. The National Eating Disorders Association’s crisis hotline saw a 78 percent increase in calls and texts last summer, with over half being people under 17 years old (NYT, Damour). Eating disorders have always been a pervasive issue, but now more than ever, the lives of countless people—especially students—depend on a change in the way we talk and think about food.
Despite all of this, the Nobles community is making undeniable progress. Clubs and organizations like the Body Positive Nobles and Athletes United are bringing awareness to and discussing issues of body image and mental health. The Athletics Department is working to implement the use of MyHuddle, an app providing student-athletes and coaches with access to mental health training and support. Progress towards a better eating culture is open-ended and ongoing. The opportunity lies within us, members of a community dedicated to kindness and respect, to be kind to ours and others’ bodies, and to respect what we look like and what our body needs to be healthy.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the following resources are available to help:
Nobles Counseling Department (Jennifer Hamilton – email@example.com)
National Suicide Hotline – 1 (800) 273-8255
NEDA Crisis Hotline – 1 (800) 931-2237
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) – 1 (630) 577-1330