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Focus attention on eating disorders

Staff Editorial | Friday, October 3, 2003

Valedictorians. Varsity athletes. Class presidents. Service leaders. Goal-oriented, ambitious, idealistic young adults. Notre Dame attracts these students – the best and the brightest – and the campus is filled with such success stories, over-achievers and perfectionists.

Because of this drive to achieve and compete, the high incidence of eating disorders at Notre Dame is not surprising. Add bulimics to the list. Anorexics. Compulsive eaters. Obsessive exercisers. The campus is full of them, too.

The diseases are a huge problem at the University, but the nature of that problem makes it hard to see and hard to fix. Eating disorders are private diseases; victims suffer in silence, and most on this campus are smart enough to hide tell-tale signs of their afflictions. Many don’t want treatment; they are afraid, embarrassed or even proud of their abilities to exert such control. But they are suffering, and they are there, and they need help.

The University should be commended for its efforts to address the problem, difficult as it is. The Health Center has hired more eating disorder specialists, speakers such as Jessica Weiner have been invited to campus and multiple support groups exist. These are steps in the right direction toward the treatment of eating disordered students, but the road will be a good deal longer.

The University needs to continue with and step up its efforts. Lecturers should be invited on a more regular basis, more seminars should be held and more counselors should be hired. For a student who is brave enough to confront her problem and go to the Health Center, a two-week wait for a counseling appointment is a discouraging setback.

Rectors and hall staffs, as well, should be regularly instructed in methods of identifying and treating eating disorders. Victims of the diseases – which are mental and emotional, as well as physical – are often in a fragile mental state, and the wrong handling of a situation or confrontation could derail all efforts to help an individual. The disorders must be approached and handled carefully, and training is an absolute necessity for those who attempt to do so.

Also, on a campus so heavily concerned with exercise and athletics, more attention should be focused on informing students about the difference between healthy living and obsession. There is often a fine line between health consciousness and eating disorders, and lectures and seminars should address this issue. Normal eating and exercise patterns should be clearly explained and encouraged.

University attempts to address the problem so far have been admirable, but it must continue to be vigilant and increase its efforts. A large number of students battle mental, physical and emotional wars every day when faced with an activity as normal as eating, and the University must fight to help them win.