Mental Health Alliance Panel Addresses Eating Disorders

The 5C Mental Health Alliance (MHA) hosted an eating disorder awareness panel Feb. 26 in recognition of National Eating Disorder
Awareness Week, which took place the last week of February. Five students spoke about their individual experiences with eating disorders and answered questions from the audience.

“Too many people, including those on the 5Cs, are
either afraid to talk about having an eating disorder or don’t know how to
find support in recovery,” said Kyra Stone PO ’16, panel moderator and a member of MHA. “By educating the public, Eating Disorder Awareness Week aims to reduce the taboo nature of these illnesses and
help sufferers find treatment.” 

As is the objective of many MHA events, this discussion was intended to bring the subject of mental health out of the shadows. Early intervention can significantly increase the likelihood of preventing eating disorder development and of beginning recovery for those who are already afflicted, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website. NEDA focuses on the importance of early intervention as well as the diversity of experiences of those personally affected by disordered eating. 

“The public needs to be aware of these diseases in order to support those who have them,” Stone said.

Prior to the panel, MHA board members stressed that the event would be a safe
space to discuss the sensitive topic. They aimed to not only provide a
supportive forum for discussion, but also to work toward debunking the myths and the stigmas associated with eating disorders.

“I hope that students will be able to better understand what it’s like to have an eating disorder and how significantly it can change your life,” Stone said. “Reading the statistics about eating disorders is one thing, but it’s often more useful to hear first-hand from those with the disorder.”

The student panelists shared their experiences candidly, and a number of audience members said they found themselves choking up during their stories. The experiences were more than moving, though; they also taught the audience a lot about eating disorders.  

“Coming in I really didn’t know much about eating disorders,
so it was nice hearing personal stories from the panelists and the
psychological processes behind how they developed an eating disorder and how it affects them emotionally and personally,” Anh Tran PZ ’15 said. 

Kaylene Au SC ’16 was similarly unaware of the complexity of issues surrounding such disorders before attending the panel. 

“I kind of thought eating disorders were just about body image, but really it’s about control as well,” Au said. “I didn’t realize there are so many factors that go into it.”

The panelists emphasized that etiologies behind eating disorders are as varied as
the patients who have them. Disordered eating could be a way to exert strength in a seemingly uncontrollable situation, or it could be a response to a traumatic life event; it may not have to do with body weight at all.

“There’s no cookie cutter way to place someone in an eating
disorder,” said Maddy Rao SC ‘16, who spoke on the panel. 

Awareness goes further than simply being mindful of differences, though. Words that may seem innocuous can be
harmful to someone who is battling an eating disorder, according to the panelists. Rao described how
seemingly benign comments like “I ate too much today, I need to go to the gym”
or “I feel fat after eating that dessert” can trigger destructive thoughts and
behaviors from those with eating disorders.

The panelists were able to give a more dimensional, human voice to the clinical way eating disorders are often discussed. Students leaving the event noted a much stronger sense of understanding for those with eating disorders than they previously had. 

“Coming from the outside, it’s really easy to say, ‘why would
you do that to yourself,” Tran said. “But it’s different when you hear their side of the
story.”

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