February 23, 2009

Campus Programs, Services Available to Help Students Coping with Eating Disorders

It might start out with a friend mentioning the desire to lose a few pounds. Maybe they spend hours at the gym or constantly count calories. If their actions become obsessive, professionals say that their behavior could be a sign of an eating disorder.

"Given messages from the media, it can sometimes be difficult for someone to differentiate between watching their diet and problematic or disordered eating behaviors, "says Sophia Hayes, a psychologist with University Counseling Services (UCS). "With eating disorders, thoughts of food, weight loss and body image can become all consuming. It can get in the way of social relationships and academics, and can have significant medical risks and consequences."

As Case Western Reserve University plans activities to coincide with National Eating Disorder Awareness Week February 22-28, students, friends and parents should know that there are resources on campus to help someone who might be struggling with an eating disorder.

UCS offers confidential online screenings where students can complete a questionnaire. In addition, students' general fees cover additional programs such as office intake, individual and group therapy sessions and psychiatry.

People who know a person who might be in need of help are encouraged to offer support. "Don't ignore it. There is an increased risk for mortality. Talk to them privately and bring up your concerns sensitively," Hayes advises. "We consult with faculty, coaches and friends if they have concerns about a student. We can offer ideas about how to approach the individual. "

Hayes says there are several therapists on staff who can help students dealing with an eating disorder. In addition, there is a new Making Peace with Food group headed by Joy Pengilly-Wyatt, UCS assistant director and training coordinator.

Michelle Togliatti, co-founder of Eating Disorder Advocates of Ohio (EDAO), says there is a rising prevalence of eating disorders in young people. "People don't realize we're talking about a life and death illness. Everyone thinks people just stopping eating, but it goes much deeper than that. It's a mental illness, and it's an extensive disorder to treat." EDAO, which primarily focuses on anorexia and bulimia, is a resource and advocacy group based in Northeast Ohio.

Hayes, the UCS psychologist, says students, friends or family members concerned about eating disorders should watch for these signs:

  • Changes in behavior and mood, including depression, anxiety and guilt
  • Changes in eating behaviors such as obsessively referring to "good" vs. "bad" foods
  • Frequent weigh-ins or expressing hatred toward their body
  • Obsession with calorie and fat content
  • Excessive exercising
  • Sudden weight loss
Events in conjunction with National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

As part of National Eating Disorder Week, the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women is sponsoring a display exploring how body image affects students at Case Western Reserve University. Over 30 students from various cultural backgrounds have agreed to share their personal experiences to demonstrate how heritage and culture influence self perception. The campus community is invited to view the display from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Thwing Center's atrium.

EDAO is planning several local events, including a book signing with Susan Albers, author of Eating Mindfully and Mindful Eating 101, and a screening of the documentary America the Beautiful. Go online for a complete list of events.

For more information contact Kimyette Finley, 216.368.0521.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, February 23, 2009 09:19 AM | News Topics: Faculty, Staff, Students, features, news

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