Visiting speaker raises campus awareness of eating disorders in two moving talks

On Thursday, Feb. 20, students and faculty met in the Warch Campus Center Cinema for “Dedication Run Amuck: Eating Disorders in Students,” a presentation by Jennifer Carter, Ph.D, on supporting Lawrence students with disordered eating and eating disorders on campus. It was sponsored by LU Breaking Stigmas, LU National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), Psychology Student Association and WelLU. The event was part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is taking place from Feb. 23 to March 1.

“It’s one of those pieces that we haven’t done much awareness about on our campus in recent years,” said Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center Director Erin Buenzli. “That’s definitely the reason why we’re doing this.”

The second event, “Starving for Success: Dedication and Disordered Eating,” took place at 8 p.m. the same night and was open to students and the community. This event was also led by Dr. Carter.

“We had the evening event as a resource to reach coaches in the community and people at St. Elizabeth and Appleton Medical Center that deal with people with eating disorders,” explained Buenzli. “Hopefully the students that really want information for themselves or for someone they love will come to the evening event as well and get great information.”

Dr. Carter is a counseling psychologist with specialties in sports psychology and eating disorders, as well as the Director of Sport Psychology at Ohio State University. After eight years of work at Ohio State, she moved to the Center for Balanced Living, an eating disorder clinic in Columbus, Ohio. She then returned to Ohio State in August 2013.

“Dr. Carter is very dynamic in terms of the information she has and her experience,” said Buenzli. “She’s also just a very intelligent, professional woman to come to campus.”

Carter began her presentation by emphasizing that eating disorders develop from a variety of factors including genetics, social and environmental pressures, psychological traits, family dynamics and severe life stressors.

Her presentation outlined how to identify symptoms of well-known eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

“I think fear is the emotion that predominates eating disorders,” Carter said. “For evaluating self-worth for students with an eating disorder, it doesn’t matter how great of a musician, athlete or student they are. It only matters about their weight and shape, and it’s one of the only things they think about.”

Carter emphasized that disorders extend beyond anorexia and bulimia. She spoke on the spring 2013 changes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) which included binge eating, a newly recognized disorder that includes emotional eating, frequent overeating, and feelings of guilt and shame afterward. The variety extends from purging behavior, night eating or “eating disorder not otherwise specified” for those who are in the first steps of being evaluated.

Dr. Carter also explained the cutting edge neurobiological differences between the brain of someone who suffers from anorexia or binge eating versus someone without a disorder such as anxiety or “mental noise” surrounding food.

She also developed exercise guidelines for people with eating disorders at the Center for Balanced Living that emphasize balance between food intake and exercise. “Exercise can be one healthy coping mechanism as one tool of many,” Dr. Carter said.

There are Lawrence students with eating disorders and also those who suffer from disordered eating. “Previously as an athletic trainer, I saw a handful of cases,” Buenzli said. “It’s not like it’s very prevalent on campus, but I’m also concerned about the disordered eating piece of it, too. People are dieting and really setting themselves up for really ritualistic or restricted eating.”

“Now at the Wellness Center, I’ve seen more and more friends of people who suffer from an eating disorder who are really concerned and wonder how to approach that and have that conversation,” Buenzli said. But does this mean that there are more cases of eating disorders on campus? “I think that it’s just the fact that we’re more accessible over the fact that it’s happening more often,” she explained.

Prevention through getting rid of widely held beliefs about weight was a main point of Carter’s talk. “80% of body weight and shape is genetic and 95% of people who diet gain back the weight within 2 years,” she explained.

“We hold this idea that we can change shape and weight as we will and that it’s about this moral deficit in character,” Dr. Carter said, “when we know that individuals who are technically overweight can be physically fit.”

Carter talked about the importance of media literacy to prevention and as a way to not internalize the negative images it induces. She said that instead of looking at the bodies of women in the media as the ideal, to think, ‘My body and my friends’ bodies don’t look like hers but that means there’s nothing wrong with me and I’m not going to take in that image.’

Finally, Dr. Carter provided tips for approaching a loved one if you are worried they may have an eating disorder. “Try to use the words ‘I’m concerned, I care about you and I want good things for you,’ and following it with a specific behavior.” She also recommended pointing them towards a counselor or professional or going with the person to an appointment so the individual can “gather some information to help them make some decisions about what’s the next best step for them.”

“One thing I do that is helpful is I try to disassociate the person from the eating disorder. I would say, ‘I can see how this eating disorder is really beating you up and I want you to be happier and to have more freedom to really have a sense of control over your life. I want to give you the tools to fight this.”