Active Minds Hosts Eating Disorder Panel

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian
February 2014

To raise awareness about eating disorders during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, the University of Massachusetts club Active Minds held a panel discussion about eating disorders and how to beat them on Tuesday night.

The panel had three speakers – Kate and Milana, who are both current UMass students, and Angela Rowan, the director of the Walden Behavioral Care clinic in Northampton.

Kate, a freshman journalism and public health major, told her story about her experiences with an eating disorder. She has been diagnosed with EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, which she developed in high school.

She said that, one day, “guided by magazines and media,” as well as ideas like “thinspiration,” she decided that she was going to “eat healthy and exercise.” The concept of thinspiration can refer to anything that a person uses to motivate themselves to get thin, such as the well known quote from supermodel Kate Moss, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

Kate talked about how easy it was to become obsessed with an eating disorder and how dieting can get out of hand. She also said that she did not think that her disorder was a problem, as she did not appear “skin and bones.”

“Skin and bones is a stigma,” she said.

Milana, a sophomore who studies psychology, was born and raised in Russia. She said that she had grown up in a strict culture, and when she developed Bulimia nervosa, her parents did not understand how severe this illness was. Milana said that she was always very hard on herself, and her gymnastics coach said that she should lose weight.

One night after purging too hard, she remembers thinking, “This is it, this is how it is going to end.” She told her high school guidance counselor about her illness, and eventually told her parents and began going to therapy in the Walden clinic.

The panel also discussed what eating disorders are, how to treat them and what to look for in order to identify one. Angela Rowan, the director of Walden, said that she began to work with eating disorders after taking a class in college about them.

“The understanding of eating disorders has evolved,” she said.

Eating disorders can happen to anyone, no matter the race, gender or religion. They “intersect with culture, and college-age students are particularly at risk.”

There are four major categories of eating disorders, which include Anorexia nervosa, the restriction of food intake and an unrealistic disturbance in body image, binge eating, Bulimia nervosa and EDNOS. Binge eating can lead to Bulimia nervosa if combined with purging.

Rowan said that eating disorders have a higher mortality rate than all other mental illnesses combined.

Some “red flags” of an eating disorder include thoughts of body image and food taking over a person’s life, not eating enough, taking frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, purging, exercising too often or getting tired very easily.

To beat an eating disorder, Rowan said that a person “really needs a team of people to work with.” This team should include medical help to check up on a person’s physical wellbeing, a mental health expert such as a therapist and a dietician to help the person get their food intake back on track.

Rowan said that the best way to help someone with an eating disorder is, “If you see something, say something, and you may have to say it more than once.”

The panel also mentioned that the problem could be bigger than the person even knows.

The Walden clinic has different strategies that can help in the treatment of eating disorders. The clinic offers a partial hospital open Monday through Friday that involves therapeutic meals to practice eating and therapy. They also have a dietician and a nurse practitioner on staff to help with the program.

Walden also offers an outpatient program that has group therapy sessions several times per week, and a recovery support group once a week.

Rowan said that this is a “rough sketch of how eating disorders are treated.” She also said that “walking in the door to get help is scary for anyone.”

Eating disorders are mental illnesses and the recovery process can be difficult. Kate has been in recovery for one and a half years.

“I’m proud to say that I’ve gained weight,” she said. She is also starting to get back “millions of little pleasures that my eating disorder took away from me.” Kate now has a blog, pbisbetterthaned.com, where she talks about her day-to-day life, food and friends. This blog is part of her recovery process.

Milana, who is also in recovery, said that someone once told her, “Milana, you will never be able to help other people if you can’t help yourself.” Both girls sometimes have thoughts of relapse, but those are part of the recovery process.

“The progress is there,” Milana said.

The secretary of “Active Minds,” Samantha Nuerminger, is hoping to make her “little project” an annual event. Active Minds holds meetings every other Thursday. Active Minds can be reached at umassactiveminds@gmail.com or on their Facebook page, Active Minds UMass Chapter.

Marleigh Felsenstein can be reached at mfelsenstein@umass.edu.