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OP-ed: Eating Disorder “Awareness”: A Thin Line

Photo: Kayla Lantos The flyers displayed in the cafeteria and Muddy River.

Photo: Kayla Lantos
The flyers displayed in the cafeteria and Muddy River.

Last month Emmanuel College’s counseling center marked national eating disorder awareness week with an information table in the Wilkens Science Center, where students were encouraged to sign a pledge to separate themselves from a culture obsessed with weight and body image.

They placed flyers from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) on the table tents in the Muddy River Café and the cafeteria, which are pictured above.

Kenneth Rogers, a mental health counselor and Assistant Director at Emmanuel’s counseling center, said the main goal of these chilling flyers was to “force awareness and attention” to this widespread issue, ignite conversation, as well as to promote the counseling center as a place where people can go to receive support.

I was concerned with the use of the word “diet” to describe a mental health issue, especially because the intent of the flyers was to make people aware of this serious and debilitating nature of eating disorders. Rogers explained that this was “a play on words” to intentionally “misconstrue that it’s a diet… it’s a disease, not a diet but a mental health issue.”

When I asked if he thought referring to it as a diet but meaning mental health issue could be misunderstood, he responded with, “Yeah it could.”

Megan Dillon ’17 shared her thoughts on the matter as someone who dealt with an eating disorder in high school. And while she appreciated the attempt to raise awareness and convey the seriousness of eating disorders, she did not agree with the methods of the counseling center.

“[The flyers were] negative and insensitive…[They] are in such a negative place already,” she said. “To see that is just a glaring reminder during one of the hardest parts of the day: while you’re eating…to have that in your face, it’s just a slap in the face.”

When I asked Rogers about the decision to place the message in spaces where students eat, he assured me that it was a deliberate choice, as the cafeteria is “a place where people can talk. Instead of shaming someone for getting a piece of pizza,” he suggests support can be offered instead.

“If people aren’t comfortable with it, that probably means they’re struggling,” Rogers explained.

I asked Megan how seeing those flyers every day has affected her, and she said “it brings me back to bad memories about it. I have positive memories that I can associate with it as well and it’s taught me a lot… but that just makes me focus on all the negative.”

If it takes someone who has recovered back to such a dark place, one can only guess and shudder at the thoughts it evokes in someone who still wrestles with these types of disorders.

When I asked Rogers if he thought the content of the flyers could negatively effect some students, he emphasized that NEDA, which “leads the nation in treatment and awareness,” was responsible for creating the content and that “these images we didn’t come up with ourselves” but “discussed [the content] as a full staff.”

Since eating disorders are still an important issue for which awareness should be raised, I wanted to ask Megan how she thinks awareness could be raised in a more positive way. She suggested “more inspiring messages… something that has recovery and potential, not death and despair.”

NEDA, from whom the content for the flyers was borrowed, has a widely recognized symbol for hope that could still achieve the goal of sparking awareness and conversation, but do so in a more positive way.

The phrase, “How did it go from losing weight to losing hope?” almost seems to suggest that the two very different ideas are somehow synonymous. It hints that there is no hope for those who lose weight, ignoring the fact that weight loss can be done in a healthy way, and that it is sometimes even crucial to the well-being of some individuals.

The alarmingly taut belt also suggests people who are overweight aren’t affected by eating disorders. Most tragically, it ignores that there is plenty of hope for all who suffer, and Megan is living proof of this.

“Out of all the psychological disorders it has the highest mortality rate,” she said. “But recovery is also extremely possible and that’s what I want people to know the most: that it can happen and that this doesn’t have to control your life.”

When I asked Megan if the flyers inspired her to go to the counseling center and discuss these issues, Megan expressed that they made her feel as though the counselors there don’t know a lot about eating disorders, and cited concerns that they wouldn’t understand her problem if she turned to them for guidance.

Rogers reported that, as of yet, no one has come in to discuss the issue as a result of the flyers.

Kayla Lantos is a staff writer for The Hub. You can reach her at lantosk@emmanuel.edu.

Posted by on March 16, 2015. Filed under Opinions & Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.