Eating Disorder Awareness Week sheds light on harsh realities

Erin Coppock

ISU Eating Disorder Services is focused on educating the campus about eating disorders and the disastrous effects it can have on the individual and everyone around them.

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association and is recognized worldwide.

Michelle Roling, Student Counseling Services counselor and co-coordinator of Eating Disorder Services, has received national certification for specialization in eating disorders.

Roling works in conjunction with fellow eating disorder counselor Erin Pederson to organize events that raise awareness on and educate people about the disease. Roling has been a counselor at Iowa State for ten years and has witnessed firsthand what an eating disorder can do to someone.

“Eating disorders can affect all aspects of a person’s life. It can complicate their relationships, affect their academics and override their self-esteem,” Roling said. “It can also cause anxiety and can trigger depression in a lot of people. Along with the psychological effects, every eating disorder, whether it is anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, also has severe health effects.”

Elementary school health classes teach the basics of what eating disorders entail. Anorexics don’t eat, bulimics throw up and binge eaters eat too much.

Roling deals with many people who are uneducated about eating disorders, such as family members or close friends of patients. She is very much aware of the stereotypes and misconceptions people carry about eating disorders.

The most common misconception about eating disorders and body type in general is that anyone can automatically identify an individual’s relationship with food and exercise by their body type, Roling said.

Someone who has a large body type may be struggling with excessive exercise and restriction of food and along with that, someone who is very small may have problems with binge eating, Roling said.

Another stereotype of the disease is that only women suffer from it. In reality, the cases of all reported eating disorders are constantly on the rise and among these, more cases of men being affected by eating disorders are seen daily.

Roling said reported eating disorder cases of men and reported cases as a whole are increasing at Iowa State, which is expected because it follows national trends.

There are different types, symptoms and classifications of eating disorders, therefore many find it hard to understand what an eating disorder is. Roling said the trick to understanding them is to first learn the difference between disordered eating and an eating disorder itself.

“Disordered eating is when an individual has a challenging relationship with food, body image and/or exercise. Eating disorders are when those challenges start to get to a level where it affects the person’s life and health,” Roling said. “There is no one single cause for eating disorders for an individual. They are a result of many factors which can range anywhere from an individual’s culture, to a traumatic event, to wanting to feel a sense of control and stability, and in some cases there may be a genetic factor involved.

“Studies have shown parents of individuals who struggle with [eating disorders] have experienced an eating disorder, depression, or some form of substance abuse, which makes their children more susceptible to the illness itself.”

Eating disorders are a medical disease. Like any other medical disease, treatment is needed in order to start recovery. Since Roling works directly with patients and other counselors, she can speak to the benefits of Student Counseling Services’ treatment for students struggling with eating disorders or disordered eating.

“We first begin with an assessment. This helps get an understanding of all aspects of the individual’s life. From there, treatment is decided by a treatment team which could potentially consist of therapists, dieticians, physicians and even personal trainers if need be,” Roling said. “The treatment team and treatment itself varies with each individual. In individual therapy we meet together and find ways in which the disease has affected their life and we try to work together to find solutions. Here at Iowa State, we also offer group therapy. Groups consist of eight members and two therapists who meet every week for 90 minutes.

“Topics for discussion are usually the same as individual therapy and food, exercise, weight and other things of that manner are not discussed. Many times, students find group therapy to be more beneficial because it allows them to reach out and see other people who are struggling and it breaks down that isolation.”

Roling’s goal for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week at Iowa State is to first and foremost raise awareness about the reality of the disease and how hard it is to recover. She hopes everyone, not just those directly affected by an eating disorder, becomes involved and educated since it is such a common disease and the numbers of reported cases continue to rise every year.

“Eating disorders are not a choice. Recovery takes a lot of time, commitment and a complete treatment team. My wish for individuals who are struggling in private would be to come forward during this week and seek treatment and know that they are not alone. It is never too early to receive assistance and it is never too late to recover,” Roling said.

To seek help for an eating disorder or to receive more information about National Eating Disorder Awareness week, e-mail Michelle Roling at [email protected] or call Student Counseling Services at 515-294-5056.