Students push for eating disorder outreach


The Daily Illini File Photo

The front of the Fred H. Turner Student Services Building on John St. on May 3, 2016.

By Brooke Eberle, Staff writer

For Ashley Asuncion and Miguel Herrera, the prevalence of eating disorders is a silent issue that continues to exist across modern society, and the first step to eliminating it is breaking the silence.

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and the Counseling Center is planning to make as much of an impact on the community as it can.

On Tuesday from 7-9 p.m., the Counseling Center Paraprofessionals will be holding a workshop called “No body is Perfect: Weighing in on Eating Disorders” at the Illini Union Room 406 as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

The Counseling Center Paraprofessionals are a student organization that put on workshops through the Counseling Center. Asuncion and Herrera are both on the team to lead the upcoming workshop.

Herrera and Asuncion, both seniors in LAS, said they joined the organization in order to become more involved in the outreach committee for their second semester in the program. The Paraprofessionals also have teams for trauma, integrative health and wellness and specific community groups.

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Herrera said the upcoming workshop will consist of various activities to help participants recognize the symptoms and risks of eating disorders. Some of the activities will include specific scenarios where participants will share their thoughts, ideas and experiences, whereas other activities involve taking quizzes on eating habits. Herrera said these quizzes are not meant to be an assessment, but rather to exemplify that eating disorders come with a large gray area.

“We really want to focus on disordered eating and other factors outside of anorexia or bulimia,” Asuncion said. “Something common is disordered eating. That is atypical eating behavior which can be counting calories or restricting certain foods.”

Asuncion also said they will be having a discussion handling eating disorders in different communities, such as the LGBT community. She said the workshop will attempt to break down the stereotype that men can’t have eating disorders. They will also be talking about body shaming and how it can affect both men and women.

Nina Orlowski, graduate student in Social Work, will also be assisting the team.

“With the whole week of outreach, there’s a lot more attention being drawn this particular Tuesday,” Orlowski said.

Orlowksi also mentioned other events planned for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, such as an open mic night on Wednesday and a lunch at La Casa on Thursday for eating disorders in the Latino community.

Asuncion said their outreach is having a big impact on the community.

“(Last semester) it wasn’t just students coming up and talking to you,” Asuncion said. “When we had our table at the ARC we had some of the faculty and staff, or even just the older population, compliment us for what we were doing and wanted to learn.”

Orlowski also said the faculty can play a large part in the community.

“We send emails explaining the outreach that we do and if it would be useful,” Orlowski said. “They then contact us say that they are teaching a community health class or a kinesiology class, so we meet their needs and craft a workshop around what they are looking for.”

Asuncion said she hopes people will feel impact like she felt during National Suicide Prevention Week.

“There were some instances where people would come up and say, ‘This really hit home for me’ or ‘I was in this position before, thank you for passing around this information,'” Asuncion said. 

Students are also able to schedule one-on-one appointments with counselors or join the eating disorders support group if they want extra help. Asuncion said she hopes to get a large audience for the workshop because it helps make people feel more comfortable to speak out about their experiences when they know they aren’t alone. 

“If they start attending events like this then maybe they can recognize things in their own life and say, ‘Maybe I do need help and this has helped me build up the confidence to actually talk to someone about it,’” Asuncion said. “Prevention is optimal to waiting until it’s awful.”

Overall, the students are devoted to letting students on campus know the Counseling Center is always available.

“I think the outreach and prevention is really important because we’re the ones doing it and not necessarily the clinicians — it helps to destigmatize it,” Orlowski said.

Herrera also said there doesn’t need to be a significant issue in order to go the Counseling Center.

“If you were having some miscommunication or argument with your roommate and it’s affecting the way you’re living together, you can go to the Counseling Center for that,” Herrera said. 

Orlowski and the team said they are very committed to putting on the best workshop that they can on Tuesday.

“It’s not just about having a passion for the topic — we all do — but we’re also committed doing research to make sure that we can provide the most accurate information to students,” Orlowski said. 

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