Event concerning eating disorders to enlighten students

She could be your best friend, your classmate or the girl across the hall. He could be your cousin, your fraternity brother or the star of the basketball team.

An estimated 8 to 10 million people nationwide are affected by eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, said Keith Sanderson, director of communication for National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Cases are reported more in females than males by an 8-1 ratio, Sanderson said. And of those cases, 86 percent first report onset of illness before the age of 20. Sanderson said many people do not receive treatment because of cost, the social stigma attached to mental illness and the fact that those afflicted may be in denial or may be embarrassed.

In light of this need, several campus groups have created a week of events to reach out to those trying to overcome eating disorders or problems with body image, said Eric Wood, a doctor and staff counselor at the Counseling, Testing and Mental Health Center. TCU will observe the first “Feed Your Body & Soul Week” this week to raise awareness of eating disorders and promote healthy living, he said.

The week’s events will include screenings, a panel discussion and a theatrical performance from a former Broadway actress, Wood said.

The counseling center and several other campus organizations, including Campus Life, the Health Center, the University Recreation Center and student organizations, are cosponsoring the week’s events, said Karen Bell, assistant dean of health promotion.

Wood said eating disorders and body image concerns are not uncommon reasons students visit the clinic, but declined to give an exact figure because of privacy concerns.

“This is something, unfortunately, that a lot of college students deal with,” Wood said. “We wanted to address it.”

One of the highlights of the week will be a performance of the play “Eaten Alive,” a one-woman show performed by Broadway actress Eva Van Dok on Feb. 27, Wood said.

Van Dok, who has overcome anorexia and bulimia, said the 55-minute play portrays the body image issues of five different women, whose ages range from 18 to 55.

Van Dok said she has toured across the country with the show, performing at colleges, including Princeton and Texas Tech universities. After the show there will be a question-and-answer session, she said. Van Dok said she has talked with many students struggling with body image after shows, and school counselors have told her that students will come to their offices seeking help the next day.

Van Dok said the play depicts eating disorders in a way that is accessible to everyone.

“People will come in expecting a lecture, but it’s an actual human piece,” Van Dok said.

She said she hopes one thing audiences get out of the show and the session is that recovery needs the help of others.

“You need someone to guide you back,” Van Dok said. “You can’t do it alone.”

Other events include a panel discussion featuring experts from the community and TCU today and a memorial for those who have died from eating disorders Thursday, which will include free eating disorder screenings.

The week’s events are listed on the Counseling, Testing and Mental Health Center Web site.

Debra Reed, professor of nutritional sciences at Texas Tech, said she has been involved with planning “Feed Your Body & Soul Week” events at Texas Tech for three years. She said her department’s event last year at drew 150 to 175 visitors. Reed said she did not know any specific cases of students seeking treatment in response to the week’s events, but many mentioned in evaluations that they were grateful for the information.

Wood said he hopes many students would be encouraged to seek help for themselves or their friends if they struggle with body image.

Bell said the focus of the week will go beyond eating disorders to emphasize healthy living for all.

“The take-home message is that students know more about eating disorders ­- where they can go for help, where they can get help for friends and just in general, learn ways to be healthy,” Bell said.