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Speakers address eating disorders

Justin Tardiff | Friday, November 11, 2005

Eating Disorder Awareness Week came to a close Thursday after several students and faculty members participated in a fishbowl discussion entitled, “360º: Perspectives on Eating Disorders” at North Dining Hall.

Valerie Staples, the eating disorders specialist at the University Counseling Center, addressed the troubles students can encounter when deciding whether to confront a friend about their eating disorder.

“People get very good at hiding their disorder,” Staples said. “However, sometimes their behavior becomes so automatic that they are not even aware of what they are doing … They need to hear that you are really worried about what is going on and that you are noticing a problem.”

Sophomore speaker Erin Hankins said she helped her friends through their disorders even though she couldn’t always relate to their experiences.

“I realized that the one thing I could do for them was listen,” she said. “It is really hard to help someone through this, but the best thing I know I can do is listen.”

Steve Tortorello, a sophomore, addressed male issues and said eating disorders aren’t limited to women.

“This is such a physically fit campus and so many people are varsity athletes,” he said. “If you go to play shirts versus skins at the Rock, and five guys take their shirts off, three of them look like He-Man. If you are not physically fit, that can be very intimidating and then a sort of mentality permeates that you should be in shape yourself.”

Heather Rakoczy, Director of the Gender Relations Center, said just because someone may be bulimic or anorexic does not mean they have the same characteristics for their disorder as someone else with the same problem.

“If we assume that every case of easting disorder is exactly the same, that every person experience and symptoms are the same, then the way we address their problems will be the same,” she said. “Each particular story requires a particular response and we need to take into careful consider that what we hear in one case in not universal.”

Junior Ali Wishon – organizer of the Awareness Week and who suffered from an eating disorder herself – said there is also a lingering problem of eating disorders being the popular punch line to jokes in our society.

“Every time I hear someone make a joke or continue to perpetuate the culture of unattainable beauty, it makes it difficult for me to stay in recovery,” she said. “This is also something we need to be concerned about because it makes people who do have a disorder less likely to speak up and admit to their problem because they feel like they are going to be the butt of the joke.”

Speakers hoped those in attendance would take away valuable information from the discussion.

“I hope that people leave the discussion having learned vital information about eating disorders, the contributing factors, how to help a friend, the specifics of the Notre Dame culture that make eating disorders so prevalent, and will continue the discussion in their dorms [and] with friends,” Wishon said.