Despite being extremely dangerous and prevalent among people of all genders, eating disorders are too often a taboo subject, as are many mental health issues. This week, Vassar College is participating in National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW) to try to change that.
The week was first designated 27 years ago and has been promoted at Vassar as early as 1996. The Office of Health Education has run programs during EDAW since its formation in 2002, creating a multidimensional approach that incorporates both passive and active programming in order to best accommodate a variety of comfort levels. For example, of the two days of tabling during the week, one will be an un-personed table that will allow people to receive information anonymously.
Other events this year include a presentation on “How to Help a Friend” by Director of Health Education Renee Pabst and a study break discussion in Lathrop House.
Said Pabst in an emailed statement, “I think every year the main goal is to take away the shame that comes in struggling with these issues, raise awareness, offer support and assist students who are struggling to know they are not alone and there are many places on and off campus to seek assistance.”
It can be separate, the fact and the fiction of eating disorders. The truth is that at least 30 million people in the United States suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder. 20 percent of those with anorexia will eventually die from a problem caused by the disease, making it the most lethal psychiatric disorder.
Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health only dedicates 93 cents per person on research for eating disorders, compared to the $88 per person for autism.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders can cause extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.
President of Lathrop Logan Hill expressed that he and the rest of Lathrop House team wanted to get involved in NEDAW.
He said in an emailed statement, “[We] believe study breaks and the residential system as a whole are often the easiest, most accessible place for a lot of people to engage in sometimes difficult conversations….[and] issues surrounding eating disorders aren’t often talked about here at Vassar or in our society as a whole.”
This year’s national NEDAW’s theme is “I Had No Idea.” As the association put it, the goal of this year is “[T]o address eating disorder misconceptions—as many individuals, families, and communities are not aware of the often devastating mental and physical consequences—and highlights available resources for treatment and support.”
The association emphasizes that eating disorders are serious illnesses, and not lifestyle choices. The association’s website contains online information sheets, articles about personal experiences and a quiz testing your knowledge of eating disorders. Fact sheets display startling statistics, such as the fact that 81 percent of ten year olds are afraid of being fat and that females ages 15 to 24 with anorexia are twelve times more likely to die from the illness than from any other cause of death.
Sara Abramson ‘16 explained why NEDAW is important for her. She wrote in an emailed statement, “Personally, I speak out because too many people in my life have suffered from this horrible disease.” It was Abramson who suggested that Lathrop participate in NEDAW.
“Eating disorder awareness week is an attempt to bring an invisible illness to the forefront. It is a week that enables people to learn the truth about eating disorders, instead of falling prey to the stereotypes and stigmas that surround the illness,” she wrote.
According to Hill, Lathrop House team was immediately receptive to Abramson’s proposal.
“Everyone on House Team agreed it was a great idea and that issues surrounding eating disorders aren’t often talked about here at Vassar or in our society as a whole.”
Vassar’s goals for this week align with the goals of the national association and focus on helping your friends and family. The presentation “How to Help a Friend” aims to educate students on how to help those who struggle with an eating disorder.
Pabst asserted that her office does its best to be mindful of how the topic of eating disorders overlaps with issues of race and identity.
She said, “We try to be inclusive when talking about body image, disorder[ed] eating, and eating disorders. We know that this is not a ‘white straight women’s issue’ and that we see these issues in all populations and the intersection of identity and this issue is important to understand with education, resources, and supports. It is also important to address this in how it can limit certain populations from seeking help.”
The Office of Health Education said they are available for help for a student or their friends who are concerned. It also offers nutrition consultation once in a month in Health Services. Meanwhile, Counseling Service provides safe and confidential support and counseling, while the Listening Center offers (845-235-2062) for 24 hour confidential counseling.