University observes Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Oakland University observed Eating Disorder Awareness Week Feb. 25-28 by hosting “Everybody Knows Somebody.”

Throughout the week, events such as “Love Your Body Yoga,” “Bye, Bye Barbie: Fighting Media Messages,” a movie screening of “Someday Melissa,” health screenings and “Body Monologues” were hosted on campus.

“The whole idea behind awareness week is to bring it to the front of everyone’s mind,” said Julie Proctor, health and wellness coordinator at Graham Health Center. “We bring these ideas forward into everyone’s mind so they become more aware and more sensitive to it.”


Be aware: Words can hurt

“If we are more sensitive to the whole issue, then we will watch our language,” Proctor said.  “We can trigger someone into an eating disorder.”

Proctor’s niece, who was a cheerleader, has struggled with an eating disorder for three years after asking to be a flyer on her sixth grade team.

“Her coach without really even thinking said, ‘Honey, you’re too big.’ She’s this tiny thing, but she wasn’t as light as the girl who really was the flyer. That triggered her eating disorder,” Proctor said. “Three years later she is still in the midst of her eating disorder.”

One out of four Americans either suffer or know someone who has suffered from an eating disorder, according to Bethany Helfman, clinical psychologist at Helfman and Associates.

Helfman and Patrizia Jesue, a registered dietitian at Nutrition Counseling Center, collaborated to help OU students observe awareness week.


Body Monologues

On Feb. 28 from 7 to 9 p.m., there was a performance of “Body Monologues” in O’Dowd Hall. After the performance, individuals who struggled or were friends of those who struggled with an eating disorder shared their stories.

The scripts performed at the event were originally written by the Body-Peace Corps at the University of Michigan, a group of men and women who struggled with eating disorders or body image issues.

The actors were selected by OU Professor Charlie Rinehart. Rinehart’s background is in communication, wellness injury prevention health science and performance studies.

“We got the monologues in January.  The students worked on them during the course of a month,” he said.

Colleen Brendell, a junior health science major, was one of the actors in “Body Monologues.”

“Professor Rinehart talked to me about ‘Body Monologues’ in class. My cousin has actually struggled with an eating disorder so I could relate to this,” Brendell said.


A story of survival

After the performance, testimonies of eating disorder survivors were shared.

“It’s important for those in the audience who are suffering with an eating disorder to see that someone has gone through it and lived through it. I selected patients I have personally worked with, or some of my colleagues have worked with, that had a journey with their eating disorder and have moved out of a dark place they’ve been in,” said Jesue.

Jack Hemp, a business owner in Royal Oak, shared his testimony of his 18-year struggle with students.

Hemp’s battle started out as a bet with a friend to see who could lose the most weight in a month. What started out as a normal diet grew and slowly took over his life.

“There was a passion for it, it was a great feeling. In the beginning it was okay, then the exercise got out of control to where I was peddling a stationary bike 50 miles a day, doing 3,000 sit ups and sleeping two hours a day because I was still working,” Hemp said.

Throughout his eating disorder Hemp also lost one of his long loves—music.

“I love concerts and live music. My son and I went to a lot of shows together. But I did not do that anymore. For at least 14 years I didn’t play any music,” he said.

One Sunday while raking, Hemps body gave him a message he could not ignore—his kidneys shut down.

“It was all very real. This was not a revelation for me to get recovery, this was me realizing I was going to die if I didn’t stop,” he said.

After going through treatment, Hemp could find enjoyment in music again.

“I’m not a preacher and this isn’t a great revelation, I’m just back to living my life,” Hemp said.


Everybody knows somebody

David Schwartz, director of the Graham Counseling Center, said at OU they offer free anonymous screenings.

“In most cases when a student comes in, there will be an evaluation to make sure we can give them the care they need,” Schwartz said. “In many cases if someone has an eating disorder they need to have a nutritionist, psychologist and a dietitian. We can provide some of those things but if it’s someone who needs more we will refer them to a local community center.”

Jesue said gentle persistence is key when trying to talk to loved ones if they are struggling with an eating disorder.

“Learn as much as you can about eating disorders so when you do approach your loved one you have information to give them and give them resources to help,” Helfman said.