By Rosie Alger
Elm Staff Writer
Dr. Laura Sproch from The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt came to speak at Washington College on Monday, Feb. 16. Decker Theater was almost full as students and community members came out to get more information about the nature of eating disorders and what to do about them.
Junior Ian Flinn enjoyed the event and came out of it with some new information to think about. He said, “I thought it was really informative. I really like how she talked about the difference between mental health issues and a physical or body issue. I learned a lot about the span of disorders that exist.”
Dr. Sproch focused her talk on the three most common types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Many of these disorders have some overlapping behaviors and symptoms, and a lot of the psychological, emotional, and cognitive damage is the same.
Dr. Sproch spent a lot of her time stressing the importance of taking these illnesses seriously and taking preventative action against them. “It’s important to think about eating disorders as very devastating and life-threatening illnesses. Sometimes the media can romanticize these illnesses, but they can be very serious illnesses. They can greatly affect social, psychological, and cognitive functioning. They can really take hold of someone’s life,” she said. “Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all of the psychiatric illnesses that we’ve said are out there.”
Part of Dr. Sproch’s presentation also focused on how body images are portrayed in the media and our society’s twisted view of health and perfection. She asserts that much of these messages are what contribute to the rise of eating disorders and talked about the importance of understanding that health and weight are not the same thing.
Even some students who had already learned about eating disorders in some capacity benefitted from this event. “I learned a little bit more about binge eating. Usually that’s not the first thing that you think about when you learn about eating disorders. Usually you think about the limiting factor or purging. I come from a background of knowing people with eating disorders, and I’ve been to a clinic with them before, but I think if you’ve never had that opportunity then it’s all kind of hearsay,” sophomore Anna Zastrow said.
Dr. Sproch said that the most important thing to remember is the importance of early intervention. “Early intervention is absolutely critical. Within the first three years, the chance of the success of treatment is much greater. That’s so important because it is very difficult to treat. It’s a very long process, which some people go through many times. The earlier and younger you are, the easier things are to turn around,” she said.
While recovery is a huge struggle for the patients themselves, it usually isn’t easy to be the one to support them through the process either. “If you have a loved one who may be struggling, it is courageous and yet can be challenging to try to offer support. In supporting another, try to remember to be caring. Focus on the eating disorder’s effect on your loved one’s overall functioning and your relationship. Seek support for yourself and provide recommendations from trained professionals that specialize in working with eating disorders,” Dr. Sproch said.
If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, you have a number of resources. Health Services on WC’s campus has a counseling center that might help you figure out your next step. You can also get in touch with The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt at eatingdisorder.org or call NEDA, the National Eating Disorder Association, at their helpline 1-800- 931-2237. Counseling Services will also be starting an Eating Disorder Support Group for the WC community at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. The group is for anyone struggling or who is supporting someone else struggling with disordered eating and is completely confidential.