Ashley Balliett, '17, and Mike Horgan, '16 discuss an article titled "5 Reasons to Date a Girl With an Eating Disorder" in the women's center on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2015. This article, written in a way that was disparaging to people with eating disorders, formed the core of discussions at the event. (Chris Barry/B&W photo)

Women’s Center hosts events for Eating Disorder Awareness Week


In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, the Women’s Center held a series of events to raise awareness about eating disorders and promote a healthier campus environment.

The events of the week, which took place from Feb. 24 – 27, were formatted to create both awareness for eating disorders and promote the resources that are available for those who are struggling with an eating disorder.

According to the Spring 2014 National College Health Assessment, 8.4 percent of Lehigh undergraduate students reported that they had an eating disorder or problem with eating. Only 6.1 percent of undergraduates nationally, however, report coping with eating disorders or disordered eating.

Rita Jones, the director of the Women’s Center, hopes that the events of the week provided students with resources to overcome their eating disorders.

“We know from the NCHA data that our students at Lehigh have a higher rate of eating disorders than the national reference group does, so we know there is something about our students, and we want to try to help them,” Jones said. “We want to think about if we are doing anything that might actually be creating an environment that may encourage eating disorders.”

Jones also said the events focused on shining a positive light on healthy eating and a healthy environment.

“We can change our climate a little bit to make sure that we are not promoting an eating-disorder-heavy climate,” Jones said.

The center facilitated discussions on Tuesday and Wednesday, held a “Love Your Body” workshop in Lamberton Hall on Thursday and encouraged individuals to wear purple on Friday to support the cause. Jill Davis, a speaker for the National Eating Disorders Association, also spoke on Tuesday about the misconceptions surrounding eating disorders and the seriousness of the issue.

This is the first year Lehigh has held events for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which began on Feb. 22. Ashley Balliett, ’17, spearheaded the project with the hope of eliminating eating disorders at Lehigh.

“I think that our ultimate goal, which won’t happen for a while, is to make campus aware of eating disorders, make it not normal and make it a campus free of eating disorders,” Balliett said.

Those who are struggling with an eating disorder are advised to seek help to overcome their eating disorders or improve their relationship with food. The Counseling Center, which helped to plan and put on some of the events of the week, is a safe place for individuals to seek help.

The Counseling Center holds both group and individual sessions. Trained counselors are available to meet with students and discuss anything that concerns them.

Cristie Cunningham, a staff psychologist at the Counseling Center, advises individuals to talk to someone in the center who can offer guidance, support and assistance if they are struggling with negative eating habits.

“I think that students at Lehigh, just like students all across the country, face these and it can be a struggle,” Cunningham said. “So our hope is that the services we provide here can be a help and be a support for them to help them work through whatever they may be dealing with.”

The events of the week aimed at removing the stigma around eating disorders, and Cunningham emphasized the importance of seeking help and not hiding the issue.

“There’s often a lot of shame around (eating disorders and disordered eating),” Cunningham said, “so one of the things that we can do hopefully is provide students with a place to talk about that, to not have to make it a secret anymore and to have someone they trust who they can talk to confidentially about how they might be struggling.”

The emphasis on eliminating eating disorders was the central theme of the events, and everyone involved with planning the events stressed the importance of a healthy relationship with food.

Shannon Hendricks, ’15 and an intern at the Women’s Center, explained that the week was meant to create a positive change at Lehigh.

“We’re just trying to raise awareness about eating disorders and how to cope with them,” Hendricks said.

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