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Saint Mary’s Eating Disorder Awareness Club hosts lecture discussing prevention, diagnosis, treatment

| Thursday, October 28, 2021

Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of eating disorders and self harm. A list of resources can be found on the National Eating Disorder Association website or through their helpline.

The Saint Mary’s Eating Disorder Awareness Club (EDAC) hosted its first meeting and lecture for the tri-campus community in an effort to combat stigma surrounding eating disorders, raise awareness, advocate and educate. 

Crystal Ramirez | The Observer
The executive board of the Eating Disorder Awareness Club led the organization’s first meeting Wednesday night at the Carroll Auditorium.

The lecture was led by clinical psychologist and certified eating disorder specialist Michelle Mannia. Her lecture discussed prevention, diagnosis and treatment — and was focused on the risks and challenges college students face.

Mannia works in the South Bend community and is passionate about eating disorder awareness, education and prevention.

“When your leadership here reached out to me about this organization, I couldn’t support anything more,” Mannia said. “I am so excited to be here.”

The beginning of the lecture examined diet culture, with Mannia discussing the consequences of normalized eating habits and diets.

“Diet culture is a set of beliefs that value thinness above health and wellness,” Mannia said. “It’s something that puts importance on restricting calories, normalizes negative self-talk, talks about ‘good foods.’”

She continued discussing the negative effects of diet culture.

“Diet culture [is] toxic for a ton of reasons,” she said. “It starts to confuse health and wellness with thinness.”

Mannia noted that people thus believe thin inherently means being healthy.

Continuing her lecture, Mannia discussed the many risks college students face regarding eating disorders as they enter a new and confusing chapter of their lives.

“Unfortunately, in our culture, a lot of people — especially college students — pursue diets thinking they are pursuing health and they’re not, they’re pursuing something different,” she said. “91% of women surveyed on a college campus had dieted, and 22% are always dieting. These numbers are really not good, and it’s also not good that the study didn’t look at men — but that’s a whole other thing too.”

Dieting is the number one predictor of the development of an eating disorder, according to Mannia.

“Diets don’t cause eating disorders, but a lot of the time diets cause eating disorders,” she said.

Mannia explained the reason behind why college students are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders.

“We know eating disorders are not about food, they care about other things… and we know people are more likely to develop eating disorders during times of change,” she said.

Mannia offered an overview of some of the factors that increase the likelihood of college students developing eating disorders, which include moving away from home and starting an intense academic schedule during a time of rapid change, more stress and pressure and newfound independence that for some people may be the first time they are in control of what they eat.

She also discussed treatment, support and concerns.

“If we know a lot of people are wrapped up in this diet culture, knowingly or unknowingly, engaging in some of these disorder eating behavior… when is it an eating disorder?” Mannia said. “Essentially, it becomes an eating disorder when it becomes sustained, dangerous, all-consuming and unimaginable… it becomes an actual eating disorder when it starts to negatively impact your life.”

In treatment, there are two goals — the first is to decrease eating disorder behavior and the second is to address the underlying concerns. Mannia once again reiterated that eating disorders are not about food.

“With the clients that I work with, we usually start with [asking] how can we bring your eating disorder behavior down… and how can we address the reason this came up in the first place?”, she said.

Addressing those underlying concerns is crucial, and Mannia noted the importance of spending time addressing the root cause of an individual’s eating disorder.

“Eating disorder behaviors are not about looking good, they’re not about losing weight, they’re not about food,” she said. “They are absolutely about coping and getting by.”

To conclude her lecture, Mannia emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach when it comes to treating eating disorders.

“You need the mental health piece as well as the medical and the dietary piece,” she said.

Audience members were able to ask Mannia questions at the end of the lecture and were provided tri-campus and local resources. EDAC will offer similar programs and events in the future, which will be open to the tri-campus community.

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