The Active Minds student organization hosted a panel discussion for National Eating Disorder Awareness week on Wednesday at the Loma Pelona Center with six panelists from the Hosford Counseling and Psychological Services Clinic, the Isla Vista Food Co-op, Student Health and the Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology (CCSP).
The panelists discussed how to recognize the complexities of eating disorders, warning signs and coping strategies, as well as resources available on campus for those suffering from eating disorders. Throughout the event, Active Minds aimed to encourage discussion on the changing climate of the conversation on eating disorders and how to decrease the stigma surrounding the issue.
Health and Wellness advisor Joanna Hill said because eating disorders are unique from many other addictions, they can be difficult to treat.
“Eating disorders are different than other addictions, like alcohol or drugs because you have to eat every day,” Hill said. “CAPS [Counseling & Psychological Services] is a good starting place. With eating disorders, the ideal trifecta is a registered dietician, a medical doctor and counseling or a therapist, and so if you go into any one of those areas they can help connect you into the rest of the resources.”
Hosford Counseling and Psychological Services Clinic eating disorder specialist Lana Smith Hale said eating disorders are a coping mechanism that are usually linked to deeper issues.
“Finding what that is for each person is part of what the experience of like working on your issues,” Smith Hale said. “The deeper issues might be anxiety, depression, obsessive thoughts, trauma, low self-esteem, family issues – it can vary. Eating disorders aren’t about the food, it’s usually about something deeper.”
Smith Hale said people suffering from eating disorders should be encouraged to reach out for support and educated on how to connect with resources.
“For somebody who has an eating disorder, to really take that step is such an act of strength to reach out for support,” Smith Hale said. “If that means calling a friend, getting involved with a new club, going to student health, going to CAPS, but beginning to take that step forward is so important in getting help.”
Active Minds co-founder and fourth-year psychology major Lilia Goldenberg said she is passionate about mental health because herself and her family members have dealt with mental health issues.
“It’s something that runs in my family,” Goldenberg said. “It’s something that I’ve had so many friends talk to about. It’s prevalent in my life. Something I’ve always noticed is that a lot of people don’t talk about it in open spaces and it comes out in ways that aren’t necessarily healthy ways it may come out.”
Active Minds co-founder and fourth-year communication and psychology double-major Carly Chianese said she feels strongly about eliminating the stigma surrounding eating disorders.
“I just think it’s very important to start the conversation about mental health and that is what this club stands for,” Chianese said. “Just that it can be such a cathartic experience even if you’re not suffering yourself to be able to alleviate some of those feelings … and to educate our campus because the more people know, the less people are going to stigmatize.”
According to Goldenberg, it is important that university campuses provide a variety of resources for individuals struggling with eating disorders.
“It creates a space where people can talk about things. Instead of just talking to your friends about it, which isn’t always the most comfortable space to, they can come here and be with likeminded people,” Goldenberg said. “It’s difficult to reach communities that don’t want to be reached. So we’re trying to get people whose ears haven’t already heard the story.”
I.V. Food Co-op manager Melissa Cohen said the Co-op can help individuals who are suffering with eating disorders by helping “to create community through food.”
“Our store has become what it was meant to be, which is a hub for education, outreach, tours, nutrition education,” Cohen said. “It’s not really about doing all your shopping at the Co-op, it’s about knowing there’s a place in the community that brings together people, community and food into one place to create a really fun shopping experience. Our mission is not selling groceries, our mission is creating access to healthy food in the most affordable way possible.”
Cohen said the Co-op can help everyone, including those with eating disorders, to get access to healthy food and learn about nutrition.
“When I was a student the Co-op wasn’t that big of a part of my life, but as I became more invested in food … I saw how the Co-op should be more of a resource for students,” Cohen said. “We’re helping to make it more inclusive, open to everyone, more affordable. It’s less about serving one particular part of our community, more about being open to everyone. Access to healthy food should not be a privilege. It’s a right.”
Fourth-year communication major Gena Sherman said the event opened the public’s eyes to resources available on campus for individuals with eating disorders.
“I really liked the overall vibe of support that there was,” Sherman said. “I felt like everyone was here for the right reasons.”
[Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed Goldenberg’ s quotes to having prior personal experience with eating disorders. Her quote actually pertained to experience with mental health disorders in general, not eating disorders specifically. This article has been updated accordingly.]