Eating disorders highlighted during awareness week
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Eating Disorder Association says “It’s time to talk about it”
Students on campus got the skinny on body image and eating disorders this week through several programs run by the Student Recreation and Wellness Center in honor of Eating Disorder Awareness week.
Initiated by the National Eating Disorder Association, this year’s Awareness week had the theme “It’s Time to Talk About It,” encouraging educators to get the word out about these disorders and students to seek help if they need it.
Lindsey Ricciardi, a clinically licensed psychologist and the program director of Center for Change Las Vegas, spoke specifically about the influence the media has on how men and women view their bodies and their eating habits.
“Everybody in this room is exposed to the same media,” Ricciardi said, explaining how pervasive this influence can be. “[The media don't] cause disorders, but it certainly contributes.”
Ricciardi illustrated her point with several instances of the “shrinking celebrity,” using images of actors, actresses and models with whom many were familiar.
Body size wasn’t the only thing she pointed out.
“We don’t ever see real skin anymore,” she said, using complexion as an example of airbrushing techniques used in the media.
“This kind of stuff is being drilled in over and over and over again,” Ricciardi said. “The body becomes an object for consumption.”
The images of three runway models that were shown next had something other than physique in common: All of them had died from complications of eating disorders.
“These girls were walking a runway days before they died of complications of a disease,” Ricciardi said. Two of them were sisters, a case in point for the genetic component of eating disorders.
Ricciardi spoke of the continuum that exists for body image and eating disorder-related issues, likening it to a sliding scale along on which an individual progresses gradually. Many individuals suffering from these conditions begin as “average” dieters before progressing to disordered eating and behaviors that can lead to eating disorder. Similarly, the causes of eating disorders are almost always complex and intertwining.
“We know there’s a really strong influence from genetics,” Ricciardi said, “but you kind of have to look at the big picture.” Research in the field has revealed the high unlikelihood of an individual developing an eating disorder because of a single cause. This supports the idea of a “perfect storm” of circumstances that contribute, including things as subtle and complicated as personality.
Ricciardi supported this point with an anecdote of a five-year-old girl whose mother would photo-copy all of the girl’s homework before the child began working on it. If the girl was writing the alphabet and there was a loop on the end of a letter or the lines didn’t match up perfectly, the mother reported that her daughter would crumple the paper immediately and cry for the rest of the evening.
“It’s this kind of temperament that allows for an eating disorder,” Ricciardi said. “It’s a subset of that group with risk factors.”
Like many other chronic diseases, prevention is a priority for health educators. At UNLV, there are many resources available for prevention, treatment and education associated with eating disorders.
Debra Meyer, a registered dietician on staff at the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, has also participated in the eating disorder awareness campaign this week.
“We’re trying to do more prevention and awareness,” she continued, saying that the theme of communication for this year’s Awareness week is a vital point.
“It’s about finding that really fine line of what’s healthy.”
“UNLV is incredibly fortunate to have such a dedicated team of eating disorder specialists,” said Mike Garone, the regional business development representative at Center for Change Las Vegas.
Despite this, specialists on campus don’t believe that students are taking advantage of these resources.
“Part of the problem is it’s socially condoned [in Las Vegas], so there’s less likelihood to seek treatment,” Ricciardi said. “It’s also the nature of the population, especially those with anorexia. It often takes an external force for them to seek help.”
SRWC Wellness Educator Starr Wharton stressed the importance of seeking help, whether for yourself or someone else.
“A lot of what we focus on is how to talk to your friend, how to recognize those issues and ultimately, how to help your friend,” Wharton said. “It’s about being a good person and a good human being.”