UI raises awareness for eating disorders

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the United States alone has as many as 10 million females and 1 million males living with an eating disorder.

These statistics in part led to the creation of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week in 2001, which comes to campus this year with a week-long series of events centered on raising awareness about eating disorders and body image.

The University’s Counseling Center has partnered with the Women’s Resource Center, along with multiple other student organizations on campus, to host film screenings, workshops, speakers and community engagements.

One of the week’s events is “The Body Project,” a photography exhibition by Jaci Wandell, senior in FAA. Her show started through a project she began last semester in an introductory gender and women’s studies class where she was asked to create an advocacy program. For that project, Wandell recalled constantly overhearing women in the residence halls being overly critical or verbally abusive toward their own bodies.

“Those comments may seem small and insignificant, but over time they begin to build up and you create a really negative view of yourself,” Wandell said.

She wanted to create a project that focused on women that was purely positive and encouraging. Her project is a series of portraits of women with quotes of the positive thoughts the women had about their own bodies superimposed over the image. The exhibition will be displayed at Ikenberry Hall and the Women’s Resources Center.

One other event, the Build-A-Wall project, is a University awareness week mainstay. Rachel Storm, program coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center, facilitates the Build-A-Wall, where students print out images that can be harmful to body images and create a large wall-sized collage. The students then cover the images with paper bricks that have quotes dealing with body positivity.

The Build-a-Walls featured in the cultural centers are focused on particular racial and ethnic identities and how they are portrayed in the media.

“We’re trying to show that the ways we look at our bodies aren’t merely affected by weight and eating but that they are also constructed with regards to race, gender, and sexuality,” Storm said.

Another part of awareness week is letting students know how they can get help. The University offers four therapy groups for eating disorders.

Two groups are meant for people with a broad spectrum of concerns, including body image, overeating, binge eating or restrictive dieting. One group is more geared toward restrictive dieting and has an approach based on acceptance and commitment therapy.

Participants in this group are taught specific skills for being mindful and watching their thoughts and behaviors.

“It’s really a good group for people who are at the beginning of their journey and who are questioning if they would really like to change their attitudes and behaviors,” said Melanie Marklein, a clinical counselor with a special emphasis in eating disorders.

The University’s outreach programs will not stop at the end of the week.

Storm said issues around bodies and body acceptance are a theme of the entire semester, with upcoming programs on women’s health.

“It doesn’t just stop at the end of the week. For some it’s a life-long process to learn to love your body and we want to be there every step of the way,” Storm said.