Panel discussion raises awareness about eating disorders

Cuong D. Nguyen

Lawrence University students, faculty and staff joined together Wednesday, Feb. 25 for a discussion of an increasingly common health issue: eating disorders. The event, part of the Wellness Committee’s Love Your Body Week, featured two students, one faculty member and one staff member who shared their personal experiences and the experiences of friends with eating disorders.
The panel members described their struggles with various types of eating disorders. They provided details on how their illnesses started, the process of recovering and how the eating disorders changed their lives.
One of the memorable personal stories came from a staff member who is also a Lawrence alumna. She described her illness, which started in middle school when she tried to keep a lean body. While she was attending college, she lived off the sugar from Downer’s cookies. Her body weight fluctuated wildly with that diet.
After Lawrence, she used alcohol as a means to stay skinny. When she finally realized that she needed help, she received the necessary treatment, although it took her a long time to recover. After recovery, her life changed forever in a positive way, and she no longer worries about her daily diet.
As the panel members discussed, eating disorders are underrepresented health problems. Eating disorders have often been stereotyped as only affecting females who want to control their weight, but the truth is, they can affect anyone with no regard to gender or age.
The participants also mentioned the factors at Lawrence that may cause eating disorders. One of the factors is the concept of the “freshman fifteen,” which causes some students to alter their diets. The prominent reason, however, is the culture at Lawrence, in which students suffer stress due to overloading on courses, having multiple jobs and participating in extracurricular activities.
Fortunately, there have been positive changes at Lawrence. According to one participant, there were more than fifty people in the last discussion occurring two years ago compared to about a dozen this time, possibly indicating that fewer people are facing problems with eating disorders. One valuable lesson from the panel was that starting to seek help is difficult. However, after getting help, “life is awesome,” said one speaker.

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