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Activities To Promote Awareness of Eating Disorders

Written by: Bernadette BeckerFebruary 17, 2016

When award-winning singer,  Karen Carpenter died from a heart complication caused by anorexia in 1983, America was shaken by the dangers of eating disorders. However, eating disorders are now the most deadly mental illness in America, with a mortality rate of around 10 percent, according the the National Institute of Mental Health.

Problematically, “most people who have [eating disorders] are in denial,” said Judy Tillapaugh, a registered dietitian and the director of the Center for Wellness and Healthy Living at IPFW.

Tillapaugh has years of experience working with people who struggle with eating disorders and explained that although there are many “triggers or influences,” the real “common denominator” is low self-esteem and poor body image.

To combat these issues, IPFW will host a body-affirming fashion show and health resource fair to encourage awareness and provide information about the deadly impacts of eating disorders. The events will be held during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, from Feb. 21 to Feb. 27.

Linda Finke, professor of nursing and executive director of health clinics and special programs at IPFW, encouraged people who have or might know someone with an eating disorder to get help.

Tillapaugh and Annie Shank, an IU public health student and intern at IPFW, are helping to coordinate the fashion show and resource fair.  The Fab(YOU)lous fashion show will run from 12:30 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. Feb. 25.

Shank explained that for the second year of the Fab(YOU)lous fashion show the event is being expanded and it aims to have a wide variety of models in body type and ethnicity. Models will consist of staff, faculty and students who were reached out to as a representative of each body type.

Each model will wear three of their own outfits for the categories of sporty, casual and dressy. The models were told to bring their own clothes because it is important to affirm that all people are beautiful in their daily lives, according to Shank.

The models must complete a form describing how they perceive beauty and what makes them beautiful, which will be read to the attendees of the fashion show as the models strut on the catwalk, Shank said.

The resource fair will highlight all the options students, staff and faculty have to get help themselves and to encourage others to get treatment. The resource fair will take place 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.Feb. 25.

Groups attending will include Active Minds, Peer Educators, Parkview Student Assistance Program, St. Joe Center and others. The event will emphasize the ways to avoid an eating disorder via healthy eating habits, options for professional treatment and healthy ways of managing stress.

Tillapaugh said that many times there are misconceptions of healthy eating that lead people toward eating disorders. She noted that poor stress and coping skills can lead to eating disorders.

Finke, who has clinical experience treating people with eating disorders, said that the body image issue is the most difficult to deal with. She said people still think they are overweight when they are losing hair and experiencing skin and teeth damage from the eating disorder.

So, as a clinician, the first step is to get a contract of healthy eating and make a nutrition plan for the person suffering with the disorder, according to Finke.

The disorder is oftentimes rooted in other problems like “depression, abuse, bullying,” Finke said, mentioning that sometimes finding the external cause can help stop the eating disorder.

Even bulimia can be rooted in a self-defense mechanism, according to Tillapaugh.

“It’s not something they’ve chosen for attention; it’s a reaction to something,” said Finke.

Finke explained that alcoholism is oftentimes a good way to understand the struggles of an eating disorder sufferer.

The holidays, with their abundances of food, can be particularly hard for individuals who battling an eating disorder, according to Finke. The body image struggles and mental issues do not ever usually completely stop, explained Finke, much like the inclination to drink excessively never goes away.

“There are ways to get help and get better… [without treatment] it just gets worse and worse,” Finke said.

Tillapaugh explained that people are often buried in shame, guilt and denial, making it difficult for people to surround them with support.

Recovery is possible, explained Tillapaugh, who said “It is not about the food; it is a mental illness,” but people can go on to “have a fantastic life” after an eating disorder.

Students can even use some of their six free sessions of counseling for it, Tillapaugh said.

Eating disorders can begin as early as preschool or elementary school, according to Tillapaugh, who said it can be rooted in the messages of the child being unloved or not being beautiful.

“[It’s] so important how young boys and girls are raised,” Tillapaugh said, noting that it is not  good practice to make food a reward for children.

Lead Peer Educator Grayson Ostermeyer pointed out that food is an important cultural and relational tool and that it is meant to be something to nourish the body and enjoy, thus it is sad to lose that relationship.

Recovery is a long process and starts with education and awareness, according to   Tillapaugh. Student groups help create an atmosphere of positivity and friendship that Tillapaugh recognized as “huge in path of recovery.”

Often recovery starts in baby steps. It can take a lot of work to understand the roots of the eating disorder said Tillapaugh, who shared that it can take seven or eight years to be healthy again.

“Take care of yourself,” said Ostermeyer, who challenged people to “be a friend” to those who are showing signs of having an eating disorder, through information, awareness and support of them getting help, especially through the programs IPFW has.

There is a “battle for information,” Ostermeyer said, especially in regards to the truth of various diet trends.

As a part of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, peer educators will have various fad diet games to show the ridiculous diet trends.

Another good resource is the choosemyplate.gov website, said Ostemeyer, which can give good examples of dietary needs from an unbiased source. He said the media can do much to influence food, and it is ultimately up to people to choose to become informed.

The events are free to the public, and they are sponsored by IPFW Center for Healthy Living: Campus Clinic and Wellness Programs, IPFW Peer Health Educators, Indiana Purdue Student Government Association and IPFW/Parkview Student Assistance program.

IPFW hopes to start a Weight Watchers group in the future and has many ongoing Wellness programs throughout the year, according to Tillapaugh.