U offers help for eating disorders

One in four female college students struggle with some form of eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, and the U students are no exception. Therefore, many women living on or off campus may find themselves at the mercy of a disorder. These disorders are prevalent in the U’s Residence Halls, according to one resident adviser.

One floor in the Resident Halls is comprised of 38 freshmen women, five of which have an eating disorder and at least five more who are suspected of having one, according to the adviser.

With such a large number of women facing the challenges associated with body image, “we need to be respectful of how difficult this issue is for students and let them know that recovery is possible,” said Cindy Harling of the University Counseling Center.

As a result, “Love Your Body Week” has dedicated the past week to educate students on the issue and provide opportunities and resources for those with disordered eating habits, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.

A recovery panel entitled SPEAK discussed disordered eating and body image Wednesday to educate students on the complex nature of the issue. The panel addressed the importance of communication and knowing when and how to talk to somebody with an eating disorder.

The panelists, themselves recovering from eating disorders, emphasized the importance of communication with women suspected of disordered eating. The majority asserted that if women are to overcome these struggles with body image, they need to feel loved and understood when confronted. These women also want concerned individuals to talk to them-not at them.

An eating disorder is a delicate situation and should be dealt with accordingly, Harling said. To assess a situation where disordered eating is suspected, SPEAK members added that roommates, friends and loved ones need to be aware of the following signs that are indicative of an eating disorder: secretive behavior, excessive mirror checking, drinking lots of water, a preoccupation with weight, eating only certain food groups, a preoccupation with exercise and keeping a scale in the apartment.

Many factors can be contributors to eating disorders.

Often the triggers have to do with each individual’s life experience, but SPEAK agreed the media has a significant role in this issue.

They said the media cause women to constantly compare themselves to “ideal women” and focus on their own inadequacies.

This critical assessment of self can lead to a preoccupation with perfectionism, said SPEAK.

A constant critique of one’s body image is also a contributing factor for women in the residence halls.

“You walk in their rooms and see specimens of perfect beings, a lot of them have those up so they can achieve the standards set by the media,” said one resident adviser.

But recovery is possible.

Treatment at the U

To help women achieve this recovery, the U offers a variety of resources for all students, faculty and staff, including The Women’s Resource Center and the University Counseling Center.

The Women’s Resource Center offers treatment that focuses on exploring how the environment has brought about this problem for women. “It [the treatment] is not based on an individual pathology, but how the culture systems we live in create body dissatisfaction,” said Erin Norris, practicum counselor of the center.

The center offers individual and group support for women facing these issues, as well as roommates who feel overwhelmed by the situation.

These individual and group services are available to all students. Prices are set on a “sliding scale,” meaning no one will be turned away for not being able to pay, Norris said. The Women’s Resource Center requires students to call before attending a group session or individual consultation. Group sessions are held each Wednesday beginning at 5 p.m.

The University Counseling Center is another option for those with disorders. The center provides counseling for eating disorders that is directed toward dealing with the emotional aspects of the problem. However, the counseling center functions on a short-term model and eating disorders are a long-term issue.

Therefore, the center acts primarily as a jumping-off point, connecting those in need with therapists in the community who can provide long-term care, said Harling.

“The best treatment for eating disorders is a three-prong system comprised of psychotherapy, nutritional counseling and medical doctor care,” said Harling. She added that the counseling center helps students, staff and faculty get what they need. The center’s first assessment is free and each session thereafter is $10.

While these resources may be beneficial to those who take advantage of them, there are many students who may not be ready to seek professional treatment.

The potential for recovery increases the sooner disorders are addressed, and there are options available to women struggling with these issues, even when the problem is in those most important beginning stages.

“Recovery will occur when food is no longer used as a coping mechanism, when women are comfortable with themselves, comfortable with food and no longer afraid of feeling what they feel,” said members of SPEAK.

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