Colonial Health Center staff clinician Kaki Tipler discusses what students can do to help friends struggling with an eating disorder and highlights options for self-care and nutritional guidance.
By Kristen Mitchell
People with eating disorders are often silenced by stigma and shame, but during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week from Feb. 26 to March 4 the life-saving resources for people in need come to the forefront of public health.
GW is marking the week with the “Love Your Body Fair” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Marvin Center Great Hall, an event that will focus on promoting healthy body image and self-care. On Wednesday a poster will be on display in the Colonial Health Center where students can write what they like about themselves and can watch YouTube videos promoting healthy body image in the lobby of the CHC.
More than 30 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder during their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Kaki Tipler, a staff clinician and eating disorder services coordinator at the Colonial Health Center, gave GW Today some tips on resources available to GW students dealing with eating disorders and how to best support friends in need.
Q: What are the characteristics of an eating disorder?
A: The characteristics of an eating disorder include extreme attitudes (such as intense fear of gaining weight, and self-esteem overly related to body shape, weight or overall body image), emotions (such as shame, guilt, depression and anxiety), and behaviors (such as restricting food intake, self-induced vomiting or binge eating) surrounding food, weight, and body image. Eating disorders are serious medical and psychological illnesses that can be life-threatening and impact individuals across the gender spectrum.
Q: How common are eating disorders among college students?
A: One study conducted by the National Eating Disorders Association found that around 20 percent of more than 1,000 college students surveyed reported they have or have previously had an eating disorder. Another study conducted by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders found that 16 percent of college students who identify as transgender reported having an eating disorder.
Q: What kind of counseling support is available for students who may have an eating disorder?
A: GW's Mental Health Services in the Colonial Health Center offers free and confidential short-term individual counseling and free group counseling to all GW students, including students who may have an eating disorder or eating concerns. Any GW student can walk-in to access our services from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday for an initial consultation. We will work with each student to figure out the best plan for them. MHS also offers group counseling focused on body image and eating concerns. Support is also available by phone at 202-994-5300, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Q: What kind of nutrition planning is available for students managing disordered eating?
A: Students can access nutrition services through Lerner Health and Wellness Center's Nutrition Services. They can also talk with a clinician at MHS or a medical professional at Medical Services for a referral to a dietitian in the community who specializes in treating disordered eating.
Q: How can students best support a friend with an eating disorder?
A: It can be difficult to know how to support a friend with an eating disorder. Some things to keep in mind are that eating disorders can be life threatening, so friends who are struggling with an eating disorder need professional help. If you have a concern about a friend, talk with them in a caring, non-judgmental and honest way about your concerns. You can also submit a CARE report to support your friend – this will allow us to reach out and offer resources for your friend. When your friend is ready to address the concern, we will be there for them.