Eating disorders topic of campus student survey

by Susan Stern
Staff writer

A confidential survey is underway to determine how widespread disordered eating problems are among young women at UBC.

The survey is being distributed to female students across campus in first-year classes, clubs, sororities, residences and athletic teams.

It is part of an initiative by Student Health Service, Counselling Services and the Women Students' Office to help all students with disordered eating conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia and compulsive eating.

Disordered eating can affect anyone at any age, including young men, but statistics indicate the vast majority of those struggling with it are young women.

"Dieting has become such a norm in our society and it's reported that up to 90 per cent of women believe they are too fat," says Judith Frankum, co-ordinator of Wellness Education Outreach in Student Health Service.

The results of the survey will be used to create further support for students struggling with the disorder. The information will also be used to increase awareness of the problem among the campus community.

Symptoms of disordered eating include intense fear of becoming fat, depression and moodiness, guilt or shame about eating, avoidance of friends or family, low self-esteem, excessive exercise, stress fractures, irregular or absent menstrual periods, frequent dental problems, distorted body image and preoccupation with food, weight and dieting.

"It's important to recognize that disordered eating is a coping mechanism that people use to deal with stress, emotions, and other underlying issues," says Frankum. "Support and professional attention will be necessary in order to learn other ways to cope."

In mid-January, Kathryn Pedersen, a counsellor in the Women Students' Office, is organizing a therapy group for female students called Breaking Free: Reclaiming Your Life from Disordered Eating. Pedersen says it will be a safe and confidential place to talk about the effects of the disorder.

"The group will focus on sharing stories and their success at freeing themselves of eating problems as well as learning how to take small steps to reclaim their lives," says Pedersen.

Pedersen is also concerned about young men who suffer from disordered eating.

"They rarely talk about it and their problem often goes unreported," she says. "I encourage young men to contact UBC Counselling Services or consult a campus doctor in the Student Health Service."

For more information about the survey and the therapy group call the Women Students' Office at 822-2415.