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Eating disorders a deeply rooted University issue

People struggling with eating disorders will soon be able to tap into treatment online.

The Duke Center for Eating Disorders plans to offer patients suffering from eating disorders with an alternative, remote-access treatment option. The new Web-based treatment program will provide care to families who cannot afford treatment or access treatment. Duke students will also have access to the program.

“Unfortunately, I think college is an environment in which eating disorders seem to emerge for a lot of people,” DCED Director Nancy Zucker said. “You’re going to see people who are perfectionists and achievement striving. At [academically rigorous] institutions, you’re going to find a bad combination for a lot of [people].”

Many Duke students struggle with disordered eating at a level that does not meet clinical criteria for a specific disorder, wrote Gary Glass, assistant director for outreach and developmental programming at Duke’s Counseling and Psychological Services, in an email Thursday.

Although less than 100 students were diagnosed with a clinical disorder last year, CAPS saw more than 600 students with some type of disruptive relationship with food and their bodies, wrote Paula Scatoloni, senior coordinator for eating disorder treatment and social work training at CAPS, in an email Wednesday.

Duke’s program will be based partially on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s pilot model, which includes daily surveys to monitor symptom severity. Zucker said this type of ongoing screening could help ensure that patients receive enough treatment.

The program gives increased options to parents. The program will be analogous to an online education course, where parents of participants can find tools for managing their child’s illness—regardless of the parents’ proximity to a treatment center.

“Getting [students’] parents involved in this [program] can help the parents feel supported at home, and [be] more supportive of their children at Duke,” Zucker said. “Even when their child is away at school, parents can be very helpful in the treatment process.”

The program, however, should not serve as a substitute for intensive care, Scatoloni said.

“When students need an intensive level of care, we generally encourage them to leave school so that they can focus 100 percent on their recovery,” Scatoloni said. “We feel that it is very difficult to manage the demands of college with the demands of treatment, [since] we are unable to provide aspects of intensive treatment, like meal support, in an outpatient setting.”

High expectations and an emphasis on appearances can help foster an unhealthy relationship with food.

“Most of [these social norms] have to do with perfectionism and prevention of failure,” Glass said. “This leads to a social climate where fear is pervasive and often not even recognized as fear. Attractiveness is defined within such narrow parameters, and for women this is particularly threatening because they are so often objectified to the degree that how they look is highlighted more than who they are as human beings.”

Although mostly females reported eating concerns, men are also prone to disordered eating.

“I’ve been seeing increasing numbers of men who don’t look very healthy on campus, but getting them to come in is a different matter,” Zucker said.

Scatoloni said the stigma associated with eating disorders and the perception that only women struggle with them discourages males from seeking help.

CAPS increased its efforts to combat some of the social norms and common mindsets associated with disordered eating through programming initiatives. CAPS converses with student groups to start conversations about harmful trends as a part of CAPS’ larger goal of facilitating discussions acknowledging perfectionism within the Duke community, Glass said.

“Once the discussions [about these issues] start, the students’ collective intelligence emerges,” he said. “They are able to recognize what has been hurting, frightening and infuriating about their experience, inspiring each other to make some changes.”

Last Thursday, DCED hosted an art show and silent auction to raise money to fund its online treatment option. The event also educated people about the realities of eating disorders.

“One [purpose of the event] was just to raise awareness about eating disorders and to kind of create a forum where people... could say, ‘I feel strongly about this issue; I believe in this issue; I’m not afraid to take ownership of my own experience with eating disorders,’ in a casual environment that was fun and artistic,” Zucker said.

Katie Seiz, a local artist who donated five pieces to the auction, said the event was particularly meaningful for her, adding that she struggled with an eating disorder in high school.

“[Eating disorders] are something that people don’t really want to talk about,” Seiz said. “[The auction] is an opportunity to be comfortable in that environment and display your artist statement and say, ‘This is why I’m doing this. This is an important cause.’”

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