AU Students Threatened By Eating Disorders, SCS Can Help

There is a lot of misinformation on diets, says Dr. Jenna Silverman, a senior clinician at Auburn University Student Counseling Services. Silverman, who specializes in sexual trauma, eating disorders and self-injury, says that for many college women a diet can become more than what is seems.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, as many as 10 percent of college women suffer from a clinical or nearly clinical eating disorder, including 5.1 percent who suffer from bulimia nervosa. Studies also indicate that by their first year of college, 4.5 to 18 percent of women have a history of bulimia.

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“Big changes in people’s life can trigger eating disorders,” Silverman said. Whether it is the end of a relationship, family problems, or academic matters, many college-aged females use their eating habits as a way to find control over something in their seemingly out of control life, Silverman says.

Freshmen at in college, specifically, face issues due to the extreme change from parental supervision to freedom. Brooke Jackson began her freshman year at Auburn fall of 2009, and says there are certain pressures felt to achieve perfection.

“In college it feels like if you want to have a certain status you have to fit a mold,” Jackson said. “It’s okay not to fit perfectly into this mold, but its presence puts a pressure on a lot of girls to exercise more and eat less.”

At Auburn, a school containing more than 10,000 women, a stressed individual can perceive this environment as a competition to look the best, Jackson says. “When you see other people succeeding, you want to succeed, too.”

Many of the pressures felt by women in college aren’t limited to freshmen alone. According to Silverman, people have issues throughout college; beginning, middle and end.

Elizabeth Mason, Auburn student, experienced an eating disorder the fall of her junior year in 2008. Now a senior, Mason says she looks back on the occurrence of loosing 17 lbs. within months as her way of adapting to changes happening in her own life. At her lowest, Mason weighed only 88 lbs.

“I didn’t even realize what I was doing at first,” Mason said. “It started out as a subconscious way for me to control something in my life, but when over-exercising and under-eating became routine for me I knew something wasn’t normal.”

By her senior year, Mason recovered from her eating disorder with the help from her family and friends. Though her upturn wasn’t overnight, Mason says, the accountability provided by those closest to her pulled her out of her harmful behaviors. She warns, however, that each day she still must constantly be aware of her food intake so as not to fall back into the same unhealthy patterns.

Silverman attests that eating disorders relate to many girls’ sense of control. Like with Mason’s disorder, the need for perfection can lead to this over-controlling of what to eat. This tension and anxiety can build up, Silverman says, which is what causes many females to purge because it provides a quick release.

Eating disorder issues among its students is not being ignored by the university. As the coordinator of Auburn University Eating Disorders Treatment Team, Silverman emphasizes the special attention given to every student who comes in for treatment. According to Silverman, many girls experiencing eating disorders put off seeking help because of a certain stigma existing within the college community when it comes to counseling.

Mason describes her hesitation to ask for professional help as simply not wanting to be labeled as crazy. Silverman, however, vehemently disperses this rumor by stating that Student Counseling Services exchanges with any student struggling with things too overwhelming to manage themselves.

“Letting someone help you through something like an eating disorder isn’t crazy,” Silverman said. “It’s the healthiest thing one can do.”

The Auburn University Eating Disorders Treatment Team, functions for students in search of treatment for eating disorders or related problems. The team consists of experts from Student Counseling Services, Auburn Medical Clinic professional staff and a registered dietitian. Students seeking healing may make an initial appointment, and are afterward assessed by the entire treatment team to determine the appropriate action for each specific case.

“I love helping students through their developmental crossroads,” Silverman said. “Counseling not only helps students overcome their disorders, but it can help them grow as a person and figure out their self-identity.”

Auburn Student Counseling Services is located at 400 Lem Morrison Drive. Appointments can be made by calling (334) 844-5123 or by visiting their Web site

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