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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with Jessica Setnick, an expert on eating disorders

Jessica Setnick has developed materials for the treatment of eating disorders and currently works as a senior fellow at Remuda Ranch, a center that treats women and girls with eating and co-occurring disorders.

Daily Tar Heel reporter Colleen Moir spoke with Setnick before a talk she gave on campus Wednesday evening titled Making Food Your Friend Again. RA

The Daily Tar Heel: What are some common problems that you’ve seen in the relationships that college students have with food?

Jessica Setnick: Some common problems are confusion and not knowing really who to trust as far as information goes. There are so many sources where you can get information about food and eating and nutrition, and a lot of those sources are trying to sell you something, but they’re not always reputable or accurate.

DTH: What is your advice to college students who want to have a healthier relationship with food?

JS: If you don’t consciously eat, you’ll end up unconsciously eating, so actually planning to eat is the number one thing that college students can do. The second thing is to be really aware of your internal cues — when you’re hungry, when you’re not hungry anymore and when you’re sometimes having emotions that can feel empty like hunger. The third thing is to not be afraid to, for any reason, make an appointment with the student health dietician or the sports dietician to get some assistance.

DTH: Why is this important to talk about?

JS: For some reason, on campus, we’re willing to talk about all kinds of controversial things, and yet eating — which isn’t controversial and everyone does it several times a day throughout their entire life — is some kind of taboo subject, for whatever reason ... When we don’t talk about it, we can’t get the support that we need, for the fact that it’s challenging in this culture, on this campus, in the world, the way that it is, to nourish yourself well. We think it should be so simple, so we’re embarrassed if it’s not working out correctly for us. So that’s why it’s important to talk about it — so that it frees other people to talk about it.

DTH: What motivates you to help people with these issues?

JS: If I’m not ashamed to talk about my own eating issues, then that provides that freedom I was mentioning to others to talk about it. And so knowing how desperate and dark it was being a person who really struggled with my eating and allowing what I ate or didn’t eat to really determine my self-worth and my self-esteem, I’d like to help anyone I can who is in that situation, or to help anyone I can to not get into that situation. That’s why I went to school to learn, that’s why I have been a dietician for 20 years; it’s really my mission, my God-given gift, to try to help others who are in a similar situation.

DTH: What’s been your proudest accomplishment that you’ve had in this line of work?

JS: It’s no one thing. It’s every time that someone that used to be in really serious trouble with their eating graduates from high school, graduates from college, or has a baby, or has some kind of amazing experience in their life, and I feel like they wouldn’t have had that if they had not changed course, and I just feel really proud if I can be any part of that.

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