For one week every year, eating disorders are brought under the spotlight.
This year, that spotlight will shine on Oakland University, as it takes center stage during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
From Feb. 26 through March 3, the topic will be discussed through various events on campus including “Love Your Body Yoga,“ “Bye Bye Barbie: Fighting Media Messages,” “America the Beautiful: The Thin Commandments,” “Body Monologues,” eating disorder screenings and a jean-collecting program.
Suffering through it
Ashley Bilkie who works in business development at Bischer Technologies in Ann Arbor, is recovering from anorexia. She has been recovering from the disorder for 14 years.
“It wasn’t until 2007 that I sought out to help, because at that point, I had never heard of eating disorders,” she said. “I didn’t really know what was going on. Once I figured it out, I was embarrassed and ashamed and I didn’t know where to look for help.”
Bilkie said there are not any higher-level inpatient treatment facilities in Michigan, so she had to move to Wisconsin after struggling through outpatient treatments for a few years.
“I was going into a new situation … I was scared,” she said. “I was also eight hours from home.”
Bilkie came out of recovery in November 2011. She said her mentality in post-treatment has been transformed.
“I actually could think for once,” she said. “I wasn’t all consumed with eating disorder thoughts. I was able to remember things. It scared me because when I came back and I tried to look back on the summer of 2011, I couldn’t remember anything I had done. I know I was living, I was driving, I was working … it was really scary to figure out.”
Although Bilkie says the process to recovery is hard, she wants people to know it is possible.
“It’s a fight … it’s a personal hell,” she said. “It’s a horrible fight to have but it is possible to see the light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of times, people are ashamed so they don’t come forward and they don’t seek help, but it’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
Bilkie said her support team is what has kept her focused during her recovery, which is an ongoing process.
“I am still working towards recovery, but I have had a great support team,” she said. “I can’t tell you the difference they have made in my life.”
Bilkie will be at the events this week.
On a national scale
The National Eating Disorder website says there are three types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
In the U.S., as many as 10 million females and one million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder and millions more struggle with a binge eating disorder, according to the site.
Bethany Helfman, a psychologist at Helfman and Associates in Bloomfield Hills, has been working with eating disorders for the past 10 years. For her, watching the suffering of a loved one was her main motivation for getting involved with the treatment of the disorder.
She said the first step in the recovery process is identification, and individuals who are identified earlier on in their eating disorders have a higher chance for a positive outcome.
“Being in treatment, I think sometimes people think there is a shame involved in it,” she said. “It’s helpful to be able to reach out for treatment, which is oftentimes really important in working with eating disorders because they’re all so encompassing … they affect all parts of a person — socially, emotionally and physically.”
Helfman also said having a team is important to the recovery process.
“We like to have psychologists for eating disorders and co-occurring disorders like anxiety, depression and personality disorders,” Helfman said. “We also like to work with a dietician because, depending on how far a person is in their eating disorder, it gets to the point where they can’t make simple decisions about their food. The dietician helps them learn about portion sizes and tries to help them get rid of some of their eating fears.”
Bringing awareness to OU
Helfman, along with the OU Counseling
Center, Graham Health Center, Campus Recreation, the School of Health Sciences and the department of communications and journalism, will be hosting a myriad of eating disorder awareness seminars throughout the week.
The events, which range from documentaries to a jean donation program, are aimed at raising awareness of the disorders and re-establish positive body image.
Julie Proctor, wellness coordinator at Graham Health Center, helped put the event together. She said the events are beneficial to any student because they are at the age where trying to fit in is important and some may start to view their bodies differently.
“There are so many different types of people they meet. They start to form misconnections in the brain that may lead them to change the food they eat and down the road, lose weight and not be connected to their body and the food they’re eating,” she said.
According to Proctor, 13 percent of the patients seen at Graham Health Center are there because of eating issues in combination with other concerns, which is different from a diagnosis of eating disorders. She said the center refers out if they see patients with a full-blown eating disorder.
Proctor said her niece also suffers from an eating disorder, which arose after a comment from her cheerleading coach.
“She didn’t mean that she was fat or any of that, but she wasn’t the lightest girl in the group (to be a flyer),” she said.
Proctor said the comment is what threw her niece into the disorder.
“I think, from a normal every day person perspective, we have to be careful with our words and what we say to people,” she said. “That, and we have to accept our bodies where they’re at and appreciate the strength that our bodies hold and the strength that our bodies can take us and walk us around campus. We focus on the negative and not the positive. Everyone is different and we shouldn’t hold on to one image that the media tells us should be a good body. Everyone is beautiful and that’s what we have to embrace.”
For more information on eating disorders, or to find a treatment facility, visit the Center for the Eating Disorders at www.center4ed.org