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Conference facilitates discussion

Aaron Steiner | Monday, February 12, 2007

The Inaugural Notre Dame Eating Disorders Conference, “Eating Disorders and the Campus Culture,” concluded Saturday after three days of discussion about a topic that “needs to be discussed,” said organizer and Notre Dame graduate student Ali Wishon. While Wishon said attendance was “a little disappointing,” the first of what she says will become an annual event was a success, crediting the “wonderful quality of speakers.”

The highlight of the event for Notre Dame students in attendance was the showing of the film “THIN,” an award-winning documentary about “girl culture” and eating disorders by photographer Lauren Greenfield, said Wishon.

“It gave people the opportunity to see someone struggling with an eating disorder,” Wishon said.

“It was just sort of a stunned silence,” Wishon said of the audience reaction to the film. “The looks on people’s faces were incredible. It was a very emotional event, especially for people who have loved ones who have suffered from eating disorders.”

About 200 people attended the showing of the film.

Keynote presenter Roberto Olivardia, a Harvard Medical School scholar and eating disorders expert, also received a positive response, Wishon said.

“I had several people who said that he was among the top, one of the best presenters that they have ever seen,” she said.

Student Senate gender issues co-chair Ashley Weiss, a conference organizer, said Olivardia addressed many facets of male eating disorders, discussing the formation of body image ideals from action figures like G.I. Joe, which leads to disorders like muscular dysmorphia.

“People were really interactive and responsive to Dr. Olivardia’s presentation,” Weiss said.

Presenters and other experts at the event also complimented the organization and quality of the inaugural event, Wishon said.

“I think that that people [were impressed] that Notre Dame is on the forefront of this conversation,” Wishon said. “Everyone that came was so impressed and said it is something that doesn’t seem to be addressed elsewhere.

“All of our speakers have been to many national conferences like this, and they all had positive things to say about the conference,” Weiss said. “People who do this for a living – going from conference to conference and studying eating disorders – were very [complimentary].”

The conference drew graduate students in addition to the presenters’ colleagues and other experts in the field, Wishon said.

Notre Dame alumnus Ted Weltzin, medical director for eating disorder services at Rogers Memorial Hospital in the Milwaukee area, was one such expert. Weltzin expressed interest in serving as an advisor for future conferences, Wishon said.

Part of the conference’s goal, Wishon said, was to foster a better understanding of how the campus environment plays a role in the development of eating disorders – something she said was addressed by presenters.

“The presenters were saying that campus culture is part of a larger problem,” Wishon said.

Planning has already begun for next year’s conference, Weiss said.