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Eating disorder awareness week

Editorial Board | Friday, October 8, 2010

It is no secret that Notre Dame students are motivated and competitive and often strive for perfection.

These are qualities that contribute to the success of so many Notre Dame alumni in their careers following college. Unfortunately, these same traits also seem to create an environment on campus that easily lends itself to the struggles of eating disorders.

This week is Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week on campus. Given the characteristics of Notre Dame’s student body, body image and eating disorders are especially relevant issues in this community.

Although it may not be characterized by the same visibility and prevalence on campus as other weeks, such as the annual Energy Week, a week dedicated to learning about body image is just as important.

Because an eating disorder is such a personal problem, it must be dealt with differently than other campus-wide initiatives. The sensitive nature of the topic makes it, perhaps, less visible and more difficult to address than other issues.

Although students who personally suffer from eating disorders may find difficulty in stepping forward and attending the events offered, the most important and effective aspect of Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week is its potential to spread awareness to the friends of those affected.

According to statistics provided to students this week by the University Counseling Center, one in three college-aged women has disordered eating habits, and 10 percent of college-aged women have diagnosable eating disorders.

A common misperception about eating disorders is that in order for a person to qualify as having a problem, they either do not eat at all, or follow their meals with bouts of self-induced vomiting. It also is a stereotype that the person must be extremely thin, and female. Flyers passed out around campus during this past week debunk these ideas; over one million men struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating, and people with bulimia may be of normal weight.

Eating habits are not the only symptoms or manifestations of eating disorders. According to the University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, roughly 70 percent of current Notre Dame seniors were varsity athletes in high school, and this trend continues every year.

Notre Dame students are proud of their reputation as a very active, athletic community. Exercise can also, however, become an excessive habit. The signs posted around Rolfs Sports Recreation Center, for example, warn students about the dangers of over-exercising.

While the high-pressure, competitive and active environment at Notre Dame may exacerbate the struggles of individuals dealing with eating disorders, other aspects of the Notre Dame community provide tremendous support and a great number of resources for individuals who struggle with disordered eating.

The University Counseling Center is equipped with resources for suffering individuals as well as concerned friends who want to know how they can make a difference. The dining halls and other campus eateries provide limitless healthy food choices. Posters with tips for eating right and staying healthy can be found all over campus.

More uniquely, this community’s close-knit community and faith-based culture offers individuals support for coping. Notre Dame is just like other top universities around the country in regard to the frequency of issues relating to body image and eating disorders. But this University also has the ability to use the positive and distinctive aspects of its culture to address these realities.