To help educate students about eating disorders, the BYU-Idaho Counseling Center sponsored the Eating Disorder Recovery & Prevention Conference last Thursday and Friday.
The guest speakers were Michael E. Berret, Melissa Taylor and Paul Harper.
“There are students that struggle with eating disorder thoughts and behaviors,” said Randy Hardman, a counselor in the Counseling Center. “We wanted to do what we could to educate them and prevent it from becoming a more serious, difficult problem in students’ lives.”
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their lives.
“I’m a Relief Society president, and I see it all the time,” said Sadie Muncy, a junior studying social work.
Taylor said about 90 percent of women on a college campus have some form of disordered eating.
Disordered eating is a disturbed and unhealthy eating pattern that can include restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals, according to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration.
“Eating disorders are the most deadly mental illnesses on the planet,” Berret said.
The mortality rate for those with eating disorders is elevated, according to The American Journal of Psychiatry. This includes death caused by the eating disorder and also suicide.
Evidence suggests that suicide mortality might be higher among those with eating disorders than those with any other psychiatric illness, according to The American Journal of Psychiatry.
Hardman said eating disorders are such a problem because of the constant emphasis put on body image not only for women, but for men as well.
“I think something you have to do is be a critical consumer of the media,” Taylor said. “I think what you see is not what they look like. For example, air brushing and Photoshop is being used in just about every advertisement that is prevalent in our society.”
Kailey Lewis Smith, a senior studying therapeutic recreation, said people tend to view eating disorders as only being about weight.
“It’s sometimes about how you are perceived in society, but it’s also about how you feel about yourself,” Smith said. “It’s not just about your outside appearance.”
Hardman said cases of men having eating disorders has gone up since he began working with people with eating disorders more than 20 years ago.
“They are underserved because of the stigma of coming in,” Taylor said. “It’s so disruptive that we’ve had males come home from their missions due to their eating disorders.”
Muncy said she feels BYU-I does not have sufficient resources to deal with all the eating disorder problems on campus.
“It would be good to increase the size of the Counseling Center, or to have groups,” Muncy said. “I’m talking about mental illness in general. We are really strong against pornography, but not anything else. I think we need more resources on campus.”
Hardman said if students don’t feel they are ready to receive professional help, there are many online sources for help, such as the National Eating Disorder Association’s website.
“Where they want to go is websites that support healthy body image and health recovery,” Hardman said.
Taylor said it is better not to mention weight when trying to help someone who might have an eating disorder.
“I think the first thing to do is to tell them that you love them and that you care for them and you’ve noticed something in their life is amiss,” Taylor said. “You want to avoid comments about their weight.”
Taylor said that when someone does start to recover, to say how healthy the person looks having restored weight.
“Also, just show that unconditional love for them, because those who suffer with eating disorders oftentimes have a high degree of shame and a low degree of sense of self-worth,” Taylor said. “When you tell them how amazing they are and how much you love them, it helps them feel like they are needed and wanted and helps them have value.”