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Live As You Are’ focuses on eating disorders

Madeline Buckley | Thursday, March 13, 2008

Last year, just over one in every 10 students to visit the University Counseling Center was treated for an eating disorder, but today Valerie Staples will present ways the University can lower that number.

Staples, the coordinator for Eating Disorder Services in the Counseling Center, will speak to faculty and staff today about how they can impact the positive body image of students.

Her department recently ran a program to educate rectors and RAs about recognizing and helping students with eating disorders and this week the Counseling Center worked in conjunction with other departments to hold campus-wide events for National Eating Disorder Awareness week.

Staples said Notre Dame students present a unique set of issues to consider in the treatment of a disorder.

“On campus, there are circumstances that might fuel the disorders differently,” she said. “This is a place where there is a lot of exercise going on and there is a competitive component to that. These are students who are pretty driven, whether it be about good grades or looking perfect.”

The Counseling Center stresses a collaborative approach to treating students with eating disorders, Staples said.

“If someone meets the criteria for an eating disorder, we approach it with a comprehensive team,” she said. “Students meet with a counselor, dietician and the physician at the health center. We are looking at all aspects of the disorder.”

The first step of the treatment program is completing paperwork that will screen for the severity of the disease, Staples said.

Certain students will need to meet with a therapist, but do not have a severe enough condition that requires regular meetings with a dietician and physician she said.

Students with a severe form of an eating disorder meet regularly with the therapist, dietician, and doctor. In those cases, the eating disorder “would be at a point where the behaviors and thoughts about body weight and eating start to affect other aspects of life such as self-esteem, relationships, and concentration,” Staples said.

Staples also leads group meetings for affected students to talk about their problems with each other.

The Counseling Center treats many forms of eating disorders every year, but the most prevalent forms treated are anorexia nervosa and bulimia, Staples said.

The center also treats students who purge calories by over-exercising, and a few students who are binge eaters, but do not purge the calories through vomiting or exercise, Staples said.

In the past few years, the Counseling Center has seen a slight increase in the number of men seeking help for eating disorders. Although the students treated are predominantly women, Staples said the increased awareness over the years has helped propel men to get the help they need.

“It is difficult for men because there is still a lot of stigma that [eating disorders] are a woman’s disease,” she said. “We are trying to get away from that.”

Recently, Staples attended a conference at Duke University for campus treatment providers. She said she was able to gain insight into the treatment programs of other similar universities such as Cornell, NYU, and Brown.

“In listening to them, I think we are pretty comparable in terms of issues and number of students with eating disorders, and I was really pleased in listening to other people in terms of our program,” Staples said. “I think with our collaborative relationships we are further ahead than some.”

Staples is optimistic about the strength of Notre Dame’s approach to eating disorders.

“I feel really good about the progress we have made in terms of providing a team approach. We have a good collaborative relationship, which transfers to good continuity of care for students. I think most students would say that they have found it to be helpful,” she said. “Eating disorders are very serious, and it can be a very lengthy treatment process but people do get better.”