Right now some 202,357 Minnesotans ages 10-65 are struggling with some form of eating disorder.
Keri Clifton, the Community Outreach Manager for The Emily Program in St. Paul, Minn. was invited by PAMA (Promoting Awareness, Motivation and Action) to speak on Bethany’s campus on Feb. 25 to share information about eating disorders and how students at Bethany can begin to think more positively about their own and others’ bodies.
Patti Reagles, professor and head of PAMA said, “PAMA tries to address this topic every other year.”
Clifton presented a talk called “Media, Body Image and Eating Disorders: Building Community Awareness”
The Emily Program is a treatment center in St. Paul specializing in the treatment of eating disorders for children, adolescents and adults, both males and females. They have four different types of programs for a person suffering from an eating disorder to receive treatment, depending on their unique situation.
“Healthy eating can be overlooked in a student’s life, yet can make a significant difference in college success. On one level, Keri talked about mindful eating, which is a common concern. On a deeper level, ‘eating disorders’ are a symptom of underlying issues that a person is masking with controlled eating and behavior. The person’s secrets are powerful, and need an avenue for release that is guided through professional help,” said Reagles.
Clifton talked about the myths of eating disorders and what the truths actually are.
“Eating disorders,” said Clifton, “do not discriminate.”
About a third of all adolescents suffering from an eating disorders are boys, and she said that she had seen someone as young as six years old and as old as 70 years old participating in treatment at The Emily Program.
She made sure to emphasize that eating disorders are mental illnesses, not physical ones, and that one is not necessarily able to tell if someone has an eating disorder by their physical appearance.
“An eating disorder is not about the food,” said Clifton. “It’s about that internal emotional chaos that a person is experiencing, and how they might deal with or cope with that chaos is by eating or not eating. So, it’s not about the food… but it’s about the food.”
She said that many people who suffer from bulimia, for example, very often do not appear to be an unhealthy weight.
Talking to someone who may have an eating disorder can be difficult, but Clifton said it is necessary. She said to avoid accusatory sentences and to use sentences like “I’ve noticed you have been losing a lot of weight very quickly,” or “I’ve seen that you are withdrawing from your friends.”
The person may become angry, but Clifton said, “Anger might help them process their experience, might help them think about things, might help them understand that ‘hey, there is someone out there who cares about me.’”
“I liked that the speaker mentioned how to – or rather not to – bring up discussing this problem with those that have it. It’s a really touchy subject and the key to working through these disorders is effective communication and strong relationships. Overall, this talk was a great way to educate the public about the reality of eating disorders,” said Christina Haslerhansen, Junior.
Clifton spoke about how people who are not suffering from eating disorders can still work to have a healthier relationship with food and their bodies. The media, she said, can have very harmful effects on both men and women. It takes about 10 minutes of looking at a fashion magazine for a woman to feel worse about herself physically.
To have a healthier relationship with your body, Clifton suggested that everyone make a list of 10 things they like about their body that have nothing to do with appearance. She gave examples like how she likes the strength of her voice and the way she is able to gesture with her arms.
She encouraged the students to disconnect health from body weight, realize that health comes in all shapes and sizes and when complimenting others, praise them on things other than how they look.
“Life does not begin five pounds from now. Life begins now,” Clifton said.