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Week fosters positive body image, eating habits

Nicole Michels | Tuesday, September 25, 2012

At a University full of talented students, athletes and leaders, a group of psychology students are taking the initiative to remind their peers of the importance of positive body images.

These students are bringing what they’ve learned in the classroom to the student body in hope of educating students about the causes and dangers of eating disorders as part of Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Senior Carolyn Bates, a psychology major currently studying eating disorders in an upper-level psychology class, said Notre Dame’s competitive environment can leave students susceptible to developing unhealthy body images.

“We’re hoping to raise awareness of the fact that as students on this campus we’re always trying to be the best in every area of our lives, and have overly critical cultural opinions on body images,” Bates said. “We want to be sure that while trying to be the best that we still keep everything in perspective.”

Bates said she and her co-organizers are bringing the message of positive body images to the student body from a number of directions.

“All of us are doing things to raise awareness on campus: Some girls are doing things in the dorms, some girls will be at the dining halls with a pledge about ending negative body talk, and [senior] Suzy [Fanuele] and I wrote a Viewpoint article for [Monday’s] Observer,” Bates said. “Some girls are planning on doing some art with sidewalk chalk to get positive body messages out there … It seemed like a lot of our class wanted to focus on helping positive body affirmations reach a larger population of the students at Notre Dame.”

Bates said these disorders can be difficult to distinguish from a healthy diet or exercise regimen.

“We’ve been talking a lot in class about how sometimes it can be a blurry line between normal behavior, trying to live healthfully, and stepping into this zone where you’re engaging in a disordered way of living,” Bates said. “There sometimes can be a fuzzy line between doing that and having that be a supplemental way to live healthfully and having that take more control of our lives.”

Bates said she hopes the Notre Dame community learns more about the resources available on and off campus for those struggling with a disorder.

“The goal of these activities is that we’re doing something to get attention and to give people the opportunity to get more information to help themselves or their friends,” Bates said. “Also, a lot of these activities will have either more information from the national eating disorders awareness website or from the University Counseling Center.”

Bates said she encourages any student struggling to maintain a positive body image to visit the Counseling Center.

“It’s free, completely confidential, and you can go in anytime without being diagnosed with anything,” Bates said. “You can talk to someone about anxiety, stress or whatever’s bothering you … You can learn great techniques for students struggling with everyday stresses as well as students with something more serious going on in their lives.”

Coordinator of Eating Disorder Services at the University Counseling Center Valerie Staples said the Counseling Center tailors its aid to fit the specific needs of students.

“The Counseling Center provides individual and/or group counseling services to students struggling with eating or body image concerns … That may be experiencing disordered eating or may have a serious eating disorder,” Staples said. “For many students, these eating behaviors may be a symptom of other concerns as well that must be addressed: difficulty with emotional expression, stress, perfectionism, relationship/family issues … Therapy can help students develop healthy ways of managing these concerns and develop an improved sense of self.”