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Some ND students obsess over exercise

Eileen Duffy | Thursday, September 9, 2004

In trying to avoid the frightening “obese American” image, some Notre Dame students are eating far too little and exercising their bodies into oblivion.

American’s new obsession with nutrition might just be scaring Notre Dame students into the opposite problem of eating disorders and overzealous exercise.

For every value meal ordered at Notre Dame’s Burger King, there is another order placed for the 300-calorie salad. For every idle dorm TV watcher, there is a fervent runner straining to lose those extra pounds.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, as many as 10 million women and one million men are struggling with an eating disorder. Seventeen percent of the 785 students who sought counseling last year at Notre Dame reported an eating concern.

“It’s definitely an issue that we have growing concerns about here on campus,” said Sister Susan Dunn, rectress of Lyons Hall. “Prior to students coming back to campus, all hall staff members have a presentation on body image, stress, self-esteem, and the relationship between those and eating disorders.”

Valerie Staples, eating disorder specialist at the University Counseling Center, echoed the sentiment that eating disorders are about more than food and weight – they often stem from the inability to express certain emotions.

“Some of my patients, rather than saying they felt angry or sad, would simply say, ‘I felt fat.’ Counting calories or running can be another way of communicating those emotions,” she said.

The need for control also factors into eating problems and obsessive exercising

“It’s not the amount of time someone exercises, it’s the role that exercising plays in their life,” Staples said. “If they aren’t able to exercise, they become angry, anxious, or guilty. They think I’ve got to burn off those calories or lose that weight. That’s the mindset that is problematic.”

Another issue lies in the number of former high school athletes. 75 percent of the student body participated in varsity high school athletics, and the absence of daily workouts might force such students to try to lose weight in unhealthy ways.

Recognizing the various issues that are associated with eating disorders, the University offers a multi-disciplinary treatment – counseling (individual or group therapy), nutritional (meeting with a dietician) and medical (through the health center).

“There is no good or bad food,” Staples said. “It’s okay to have a Milky Way sometimes.”