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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton recognizes Nat’l Eating Disorder Week

<rdered eating is getting more airtime, especially this week on the Carleton campus.

Though National Eating Disorder Awareness Week was in February, Karen Eash, ‘13 Goodhue SWA, and Nicole Hamilton, ‘13, were determined to spread the word about disordered eating, body image, healthy eating, and related issues at Carleton. “One of the most important reasons I wanted to organize these events was to reduce stigmas, both with disordered eating and eating disorders,” says Eash. Because the NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) had such a compelling message this year—“it’s time to talk about it”—Hamilton was motivated to coordinate two healthy eating-oriented events for eighth week: a discussion on how to approach a friend you think is struggling with disordered eating, and a presentation on healthy eating on Wednesday.

On Tuesday evening, Wellness Center Director and Psychologist Marit Lysne led an informal discussion in the Nourse main lounge. Lysne guided the group of Carleton students through basic warning signs, dispelled prevalent misconceptions, and advised how to talk to a friend that a student is concerned about.

Lysne stressed that even small warning signs should prompt talking with a friend, rather than waiting for undeniable severity. “People perceive that behaviors not falling within certain criteria aren’t grounds to be concerned. Nothing is farther from the truth.” Warning signs include, but are not limited to, dramatic weight loss or gain, anxiety about and conversational preoccupation with weight fluctuations, and an extremely rigid exercise schedule despite illness or injury that’s motivated by an urge to “burn off calories.” Additionally, the “IMAD” acronym spells out more symptoms of an eating disorder: Inefficiency in the fulfillment of responsibilities; Misery expressed by obsession, anxiety, and mood swings; Alienation manifested by social anxiety, withdrawal, and self-absorption; and Disturbance of self and others by lacking control of eating, emotions, and decisions.

Misconceptions about eating disorders often come from the media, says Lysne, which characterizes eating disorders as requiring “rail-thin” appearance: “that’s when someone’s sick, that’s when someone’s really struggling.” As Hamilton notes, “eating disorders in general are prevalent on college campuses, but we don’t have actual statistics because people go undiagnosed, thinking their eating patterns are normal, and they go without getting help.”

So how does one help a friend with an eating disorder? “I encourage you to talk directly to the person rather than talking to a lot of other people first,” Lysne advises, emphasizing that on a smaller, residential campus, like Carleton, expressing concern for a struggling friend to other people can “feel gossipy.” Additionally, when talking to a friend one is concerned about, referring them onto a source of help, such as the Wellness Center, is crucial: “if you feel like you’re the source, it’s not sustainable for you, and it won’t give the student the help they need.”

While accusatory and “policing” confrontations put a friend with disordered eating on the defense, a caring conversation focused on a student’s concern for the friend can lead them toward recovery. Lysne reminds students to “not be impatient about your friend going in for help.”

One reason a friend could stop going to therapy may simply be not having a good fit with a counselor. “We as therapists don’t expect to be right for every person,” Lysne says. She encourages students to not give up on therapy, but rather to try another counselor if the student doesn’t feel the right connection. Students should feel free to request to try another counselor instead of giving up therapy altogether.

In general, people want to be cautious to approach someone who seems to be struggling with an eating disorder. However, acting sooner, rather than later, can save a friend from becoming entrenched in detrimental behaviors. Even an anonymous letter under a windshield wiper, or a brother talking to his sister about how she doesn’t smile as much as she used to, have brought people struggling with an eating disorder into therapy, says Lysne. “There’s not enough discussion on college campuses about disordered eating,” adds Lysne. As NEDA promotes with this year’s key phrase: “it’s time to talk about it.”

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