Panel shares eating disorder advice
By KATE STEER
About 30 students sat captivated Tuesday night as a fellow student shared the story of her life-threatening experience with eating disorders. JoAnna Deeter, a Notre Dame senior, spoke during a panel discussion on the issue in Pangborn Hall.
Eating disorders have been the focus of recent student-written letters in The Observer and criticism of the administration's lack of initiative in addressing the issue.
The event began with video testimony of several individual experiences with either anorexia or bulimia. The video included a listing of signs and symptoms of both disorders. Deeter then spoke about her experiences.
"My story isn't one you haven't heard before," she began.
Deeter said that Notre Dame especially fosters a competitive, involved character that is conducive to eating disorder development. Problems often begin with students who are over-involved and too busy to take care of themselves.
While the majority of people with eating disorders experience a growing preoccupation with food, diet and weight, Deeter said that her situation began in high school with a dedication to exercise and a strong competitive spirit.
"For me it was more of an issue with running: run five miles, run six miles, run seven miles. It was consuming," she said.
Support systems are essential in the recovery process, Deeter said, but there is also a need for self-recognition of the problem.
"It was great to have a team of support, but I had to want to do it myself."
Saira John of the University Counseling Center also participated in the discussion to provide a counselor's point of view on the subject.
John said that there are many theories on the development of eating disorders. The most prevalent points to issues of positive reinforcement for weight loss, family dynamics and "societal pressures to uphold an unreasonable standard of beauty."
"Only 5 percent of the population of women fit the model type presented to society," she said, citing Barbie as an example. John said that there are similar unattainable images for men, who constitute about 10 percent of reported eating disordered individuals.
John said that a multi-modal approach to treatment often works best.
"About 80 percent of individuals get better with treatment. The most successful treatment involves the help of physicians, therapists, nutritionists and family," she said. "In the most severe cases, those in which the individual's life is in danger, a hospital stay is part of the treatment."
Deeter, whose recovery involved a month-long stay in a hospital, agreed, saying that statistics and pictures can be helpful in confronting someone who exhibits the signs of an eating disorder, especially anorexia. Reassuring the individual that recovery and improvement are possible is key, she said.
"I can tell you today that [the struggle] is hopeful," Deeter said.
The discussion was the result of a group project for Carol Williams's abnormal psychology class requiring a mental health public education campaign.
All News Stories for Wednesday, October 27, 1999