The primary objective of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week’s events is to educate people about how eating disorders affect people from all walks of life and how these disorders are serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses rather than choices that people make. The goal is to connect people struggling with eating disorders, as well as their families, with a viable means of support.

Events planned for the week included a book display in Wilson Commons on Wednesday, private screenings for potential eating disorders on Thursday and the presentation of the Vagina Monologues on Friday in Strong Auditorium.

A panel discussion on Monday in Hoyt Auditorium featured four women with different experiences in eating disorder treatment, recovery and expression that joined together in an effort to break the silence and stigma surrounding eating disorders. Local eating disorders expert Mary Tantillo, Ph.D., Certified Personal Trainer Mary Eggers, R.N., University Counseling Center Counselor Dagmar Kauffmann and Joy Christiansen, M.F.A., the artist whose exhibit opened Tuesday at Hartnett Gallery spoke.

Each woman shared her personal connection to eating disorders and then the panel was open to questions from the audience. The audience was a diverse body of students, University faculty, local educators and healthcare providers.

Tantillo talked about the health symptoms of worry, compulsion, lack of self-confidence and detachment from the self and others that many people with eating disorders suffer from. She anthropomorphized the disorder, externalizing it in order for the audience to understand how it takes over the mind of the sufferer. In order to combat the disorder, Tantillo suggested that we as a society dismiss the associated blame and shame of the disorder and break its hold on our daily lives. She suggested practicing zero tolerance of weightism, carefully monitoring conversations so that one’s sense of self is not associated with one’s body image.

“Don’t weigh your self-esteem,” she said.

Christiansen used art as a means of communicating her emotions and this project resulted in the art display in Hartnett Gallery.

“I had an eating disorder and I started writing my stream of consciousness on my artwork.” Her work consists of pieces of furniture that are decorated with the texts, photographs and personal thoughts of people with eating disorders and their loved ones.

Eggers told her personal story of being a bulimic since the age of 10.

“For me, to talk about eating disorders is to talk about life,” she said. She stressed that after 14 years, she is still in recovery and will always be in recovery. She described her turning point in the illness as a step she had to take for herself.

“If I really want to succeed, I have to take care of myself,” she said.

Lastly, Kauffmann shared some statistics about eating disorders on campus. The statistics were a result of a voluntary self-reported survey administered to 1,300 undergraduates. Of those people surveyed, three percent (51 people) reported they had anorexia and two percent (28 people) reported struggles with bulimia. Kauffmann reported that UCC sees approximately 800-900 undergraduates, two to six percent of these people specifically for eating-related problems. She cautioned, however, that this number does not reflect the people who have difficulties with eating as a byproduct.

After setting the stage with the panelists’ experiences, the floor was opened for questions. Students questioned how to help a friend with a potential eating disorder.

“Don’t hesitate. Don’t be silent,” Tantillo said.

“I can’t reach someone if they don’t come and make an appointment with me. You live, eat and work with these people and you are the gateway to dealing with this,” Kauffmann said.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week has been held since 1987.

Sponsoring organizations include Hartnett Gallery, Women’s Caucus, Graduate Organizing Group, University Health Services Health Promotion Office, University Counseling Center, Wilson Commons Student Activities, New York State College Health Association and the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies.

Additional support for the week is provided by the Panhellenic Association, UR Student Health Advisory Committee, Multicultural Greek Council and Eastman School of Music Residential Life Office.

Sahay is a member of the class of 2010.

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