Robert Morris takes part in ANAD


Photo credit: Delaney Hassell

Sarah Applegarth, Staff Reporter

This week Robert Morris University is spreading awareness about a disease that nearly 30 million American suffer from, most of whom suffering in silence. March 21 through March 27 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, also known as National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Week.

Caroline Degnan, RMU psychology professor and national certified counselor, thinks that having a week to bring attention to eating disorders and the effects they have is “fantastic.”

“Any mental disorder and especially eating disorders, you can’t see it so you don’t know the pain the person is in,” said Degnan. “So by bringing awareness to it with weeks like this makes people feel they are not abnormal.”

The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from eating disorders. Ultimately between 10 to 15 percent of Americans will battle an eating disorder in their lifetime.

Only about 10 percent will seek help and of the ones that do, only 20 percent will receive the intensity of treatment they need. Degnan explained that many sufferers believe that what they’re doing to themselves is healthy. Especially in the case of restrictive dieting, they believe that a small waist translates into a healthier body. She continued to say that unless patients are in danger of hurting themselves or others they have the freedom to sign themselves out of rehabilitation. Since eating disorders fall into an extremely gray area that medical institutions are wary of because sufferers are hurting themselves, however holding them infringes on their freedom, so hospitals tend to let them go in order to avoid lawsuits.

After the patient leaves the hospital it is solely up to them to seek further treatment, which explains why so few people receive the treatment they need. The recovery process is also long and generally mentally and physically grueling, thus, patients tend to shy away from it.

Degnan also explained that those who suffer from these diseases often don’t want to give it up and enjoy the power they get to exert over their body. “Their eating disorder turns into that person’s favorite thing,” Degnan said. “It’s their best friend.”

The term eating disorder is a blanket term used to describe different types of the disease. Degnan said that the line is drawn between a radical diet, for example, and an eating disorder, “when it’s inhibiting the person from living their everyday life.”

She described that the evolution of an eating disorder goes from extreme dieting to disordered eating, then ultimately to an eating disorder. There are three general types of eating disorders that exist: Anorexia, which is overly restrictive eating, or not eating at all. Bulimia, or eating massive amounts of calories in one sitting and then purging or throwing them up. Binge eating which is also eating massive amounts of calories in one sitting, as much as 1500, and not throwing them up. Each type is dangerous, those who suffer need to seek help.

Degnan offered advice to those who think they may need help by suggesting the Counseling Center on campus. In addition, if someone doesn’t feel comfortable going to the counseling center there are also numerous facilities in the Pittsburgh area that offer help to those who need it.

If a friend or a loved one is suspicious of someone having an eating disorder, Degnan said “it is okay to ask someone how they’re doing,” and opening that door of communication to someone.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week makes eating disorders easier to talk about and helps sufferers feel like they aren’t alone. It also educates people about their bodies and provides information on where to seek help so eventually, the suffering can end.

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders works closely with Robert Morris sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon. ANAD week started this on Monday and continues tonight with a fashion show in the PNC Colonial Cafe.