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May 18, 2001

SADED hosts Women's Week panel on eating disorders

In an effort to raise awareness concerning the issues that face women today, the University of Chicago Feminist Majority sponsored Women's Week this week. Part of the series of events scheduled for the week was a panel discussion on Wednesday sponsored by SATED (Students Advocating the Treatment of Eating Disorders) and the Feminist Majority, among others, in order to raise awareness about eating disorders. The lecture entitled "Eating Disorders on College Campuses: The Trouble with 'Normal,'" addressed the major issues behind the most common eating disorders plaguing college campuses today."

"This is important to Women's Week not only to make people more aware of the issue, but also to encourage women to address the issue," said Pamela Bozeman-Evans, moderator of the panel discussion.

Members of SATED also hoped that Wednesday's panel discussion, in conjunction with Women's Week, would point women to helpful methods for dealing with their particular problems. "Women's Week is an excellent way to present resources to women who struggle with issues and to empower women," said Crystal Duke, treasurer of SATED. "Our main goal was to become a resource to those on campus and in the community who struggle with eating disorders, to raise awareness, and to promote self-esteem."

According to panelist Michelle Wasserman, an extern at the University of Chicago Hospitals in the Department of Eating Disorders, 44 percent of college women report having disturbed eating habits, 50 percent of girls between the ages of eight and 10 are dissatisfied with their bodies, one-half to one percent of all women suffer form anorexia, and two to five percent of all women suffer from bulimia. Only 10 percent of eating disorder victims are male.

Because eating disorders are complex and have multiple symptoms, they are hard to define. However, Ann Smith, a panelist and University of Chicago Hospitals extern, gave the audience some generally accepted guidelines for diagnosing eating disorders.

According to Smith, anorexia nervosa is a self-induced weight loss that results in a person dieting until she reaches a weight 15 percent under her ideal body weight. A severe fear of obesity usually accompanies this disorder. The health consequences include severe dehydration, fatigue, the loss of bone density, the inability to concentrate, and the cessation of the menstrual cycle. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate among all psychiatric problems.

According to Smith, bulimia nervosa is bingeing on food and then purging, usually by vomiting. Bulimia victims often experience an out-of-control feeling, and compel themselves to exercise and fast for extended periods of time. The health consequences of bulimia include an irregular digestive system and the decay of teeth from vomiting.

Smith also defined binge eating disorder as eating without purging, which often leads to obesity. Negative health consequences include heart problems and type II diabetes.

Most panelists concurred that a major influence on people's ideal body image is the media. Because the media endorses certain types of beauty, young women in America then feel pressures to compete with each other in order to achieve that image of beauty. "We are a culture weaned on competition," said Dr. Susan Redfield, a panelist and counselor from ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders).

Redfield also blamed modern culture for emphasizing superficial qualities in people. "We value the externals: youth, beauty, success," Redfield said. "This is what we constantly chase after."

The panel also addressed the fact that certain groups of people are more likely to develop eating disorders. For instance, ballet dancers, gymnasts, and male wrestlers all have to struggle with food in order to continue performing at their maximum levels. Also, the panelists discussed a survey that said that male homosexuals are much more likely to develop eating disorders than their heterosexual peers.

Panelists also debunked the idea that eating disorders are purely physical disorders. Instead, they argued that eating disorders are multi-faceted, sparked by many factors in a person's life. "It's not about food or weight," Redfield said. "When people develop an eating disorder, it's their solution to a problem. It feels right, it feels good, but then it starts catching up."

However, the panel stressed the many resources that victims of eating disorders have. For U of C students with these disorders, resources include individual treatment at the University of Chicago Hospitals. "Recovery is not an event. It's a door that opens to a path," Redfield said.

The panel ultimately expressed hope for victims of any eating disorder, under the condition that the victim seeks the appropriate help. "Anyone with an eating disorder can surrender their eating disorder and have a better life," Redfield said.

By providing women with a forum, SATED members also hoped to give help to women at the University. "An eating disorder is an issue that is silently torturing many women on campus. This week in general helped empower women," said Clare Buckley, founder of SATED. "The goal of the discussion was to give women [a sense of] community and to talk about things that affect them."

Women's Week will draw to a close with two events this afternoon. "Women in the Public Eye," a panel featuring the Executive Director from the Illinois League of Women, will take place at noon in Ida Noyes room 216. This panel will be followed by another discussion, entitled "Black Women in the Media: Why Why Why?" The panel, which focuses on the ways in which the media misrepresents black women, will take place at 3 p.m. in the Reynolds Club room 010.

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