Taking on an invisible issue

Students across the country suffer physical and emotional damage every year from eating disorders, and UVM is no exception.To acknowledge this reality, Active Minds — a newly recognized club — and the Center for Health and Wellbeing and Active Minds are hosting events for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week from Feb. 22-26.”Our week is about recovery and coming together to talk about what recovery looks like in college and what are the support systems that are or aren’t present, and just reducing the silence,” Annie Cressey, health educator in Health Promotions and advisor for Active Minds, said.According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), “In the United States, as many as 10 million females and one million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Millions more are struggling with binge eating disorder.””There are way more students struggling on campus than people know because it can be such a well kept secret,” sophomore Amy Goodnough said. NEDA decided to follow this year’s national theme: “It’s time to talk about it,” Cressey said.This theme fits in well because one of the main components of Active Minds is to have conversations full of hope, junior Kelly Andrews, secretary of Active Minds, said. “Active Minds is a student-run organization where the main goal is to reduce the stigma around mental health and increase conversation, making it positive and really just connecting,” Cressey said.This is the club’s first semester looking into programming and outreach. “When I was in college we heard about bulimia and anorexia,” Cressey said. “Now there are so many other distorted relationships with food from binge overeating to restricting and compulsive exercising — it is very multi-layered.” Active Minds wants to encourage people to view eating disorders as a mental health issue and not just a physical issue, Cressey said.”The food and the fat is this huge red herring for what’s really going on internally,” Goodnough said.Recovery from an eating disorder is all about dealing with the mental part, Andrews said.”It is important to know that you might take steps forward, and taking steps back does not mean that you are a failure or that you can’t continue down the road toward overall well-being,” Goodnough said.This, as well as the wide spectrum of eating disorders, is a message that Active Minds hopes to relay during the week.Because people do not associate themselves with the extreme eating disorder descriptions in textbooks, many people don’t think they fit the criteria, Cressey said.”A lot of students are falling in that middle area where there are a lot of harmful behaviors going on, and they don’t realize that they need to seek help,” she said.This week is important because it is an opportunity for these people to be reached, Cressey said.”Many people do suffer in silence and researchers around the country are talking about how [eating disorders are] rising in epidemic proportions — we need to help provide hope,” Andrews said. This week’s events include:Candlelight Vigil on Feb. 22 at 5 p.m. in the L/L walkway.Panel Discussion  on Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. in the L/L fireplace lounge.Movie showing of “America the Beautiful: Is America obsessed with Beauty” on Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. in the Grand Maple BallroomCreating Prayer Flags of Healing and Hope at Brennan’s on Feb. 25 from 6-8 p.m.