Eating disorder awareness week sheds light on a difficult topic
According to the Eating Disorder Coalition one person in the United States dies due to an eating disorder every 60 minutes.
Southeast annually observes Eating Disorder Awareness Week, held Feb. 25-28 this year.
The university hosted events ranging from discussions on body positivity to cooking demonstrations. Counseling and Disability Services also offered confidential screening for eating disorders during each event.
The week kicked off with a student panel Feb. 25 in which three Southeast students shared their personal struggles with anorexia, orthorexia and bulimia, as well as their perspectives on recovery. Attendees were also invited to ask questions or share their own experiences.
Panelist and eating disorder recovery advocate Laura Bauman said while recovery is an ongoing process, learning to recognize and correct harmful behavior is vital to fighting disordered eating. As a graduate assistant studying eating disorders, Bauman said changing the perspective on eating disorders can improve recovery options.
“The turning point in recovery for me was the discovery of how brain-based eating disorders are,” Bauman said. “ There’s a misunderstanding that eating disorders are often treated on a solely physical standpoint.”
She explained how eating habits can alter the brain’s mental pathways, creating negative eating habits. However, Bauman feels eating-disorder recovery often focuses on target weight and calorie goals while not addressing this neurological element of the disorder.
“So, even if they feel more lost than ever, patients who appear physically OK are sent on their way,” Bauman said. “We have to go to brain bootcamp to retrain those pathways.”
Bauman suggested further research might identify neurological risk factors in children before the onset of disordered eating.
Clinical research coordinator in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine and the coordinator for the Missouri Body U program Marie-Laure Firebaugh explained evidence-based treatments and the role of family in therapy options for those who suffer from eating disorders.
“You want the person to have a full team, a doctor, as well as a dietician,” Firebaugh said.
Southeast counselor Mary Ann Farmer added while eating disorders affect individuals from every demographic background, performers and athletes are also at a heightened risk.
A screening of the film “The Illusionists” on Wednesday, Feb. 27, also described the role of the advertising industry in perpetuating body insecurity. In an effort to enhance athletic performance or adhere to Western beauty standards, individuals might slip into calorie restriction and disordered eating habits. Farmer explained as an eating disorder worsens, an individual might find more and more difficulty in reaching out for help.
“It takes guts to say, ‘OK, I have a problem,’ but it isn’t a scary thing. You need help, and could at least take a questionnaire to be safe,” Bauman said. “If you have the fear you may have an eating disorder, you probably do.”
Those hesitant about individual counseling sessions might find assistance in other on-campus resources. In previous semester, Farmer facilitated an Eating Disorder Anonymous support group that provided students with a safe space to discuss similar experiences with peers. The Eating Disorder Anonymous group has been inactive due to low student interest but will resume when membership rises.
Southeast and the Missouri Eating Disorder Council also provides Body U, a free online resource accessible from Counseling and Disability Service’s website that screens for disordered eating patterns and provides educational materials. Firebaugh said of students who take the Body U screen, 63 percent are at a high risk for eating disorders. Groups and individuals can also participate in The Body Training Project, a peer-led seminar that can help students recognize unhealthy body image.
The week wrapped up with “Tranquility Thursday” at the Student Recreation Center, which included free pilates, barre and yoga classes.
Although new visitors to Southeast’s counseling clinic are being placed on a temporary waitlist, Counseling and Disability Services director Janice Bunch said that should not deter students from visiting. Students struggling with disordered eating — or any mental health concern — should contact Counseling and Disability services to be put on a waitlist, or, depending on the severity of the situation, can be seen immediately by a counselor. Bunch said the average wait time is currently seven to 10 days.
Nearly 30 million Americans struggle with eating disorders, as reported by the National Eating Disorder Association. For assistance or to learn more about unhealthy eating habits, contact Counseling and Disability Services at (573) 986-6191. The office is located on the 11th floor of Towers East.