August, 18 2017

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Center hopes to increase eating disorder awareness

For some high school and college-age females, it can seem like everyone around them is pointing a ridiculing finger at their midsection.

Christy Gerrard, who coordinates a counseling group for eating disorders at BYU, said some of the women she works with spend 80 to 90 percent of their time thinking about eating, dieting and exercise.

"Just imagine if you functioned on 10 percent of your thought," she said

At the CENTER FOR CHANGE, an Orem facility for intensive eating disorder treatment, patients draw full-body, symbolic portraits of themselves when they enter the center.

One portrait, which hangs in the basement crafts area, has large black X's painted across the upper legs with the words "just leave" and "please let me die."

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and local universities as well as the CENTER FOR CHANGE are taking the opportunity to talk about the problem that affects some 11 million Americans -- more than 25 times the number who deal with AIDS.

BYU has hosted daily presentations this week on treating and dealing with eating disorders. Today a panel will discuss "How to Help a Friend," at 11 a.m. in Room 3253 of the Wilkinson Student Center, and Friday officials will show the video "Dying to be Thin" at noon in Room 3380.

Gerrard said she sees an increase in students interested in counseling through her BYU mentor group TREATMENT PROGRAM "Fed Up With Food" soon after the presentations.

The BYU PROGRAM works with a handful of students each semester, usually less than 10, each paired up with someone who has overcome an eating disorder.

Gerrard said in the BYU culture where students don't drink or smoke, eating disorders can offer an outlet for addictive or compulsive behavior.

She said eating disorders can often affect, "perfectionistic, very involved, very active people," and research on whether eating disorders are a bigger problem at BYU than elsewhere is under way.

State statistics from 2003 indicate that among college women, 58 percent reported eating less than they normally would, 12 percent reported fasting to control weight, and 6 percent reported using vomiting or laxatives for weight control.

Workers at the CENTER FOR CHANGE say they have had patients as young as 14 and as old as 60 come in for treatment, but that mostly they treat women ages 18 to 22.

Those who are treated essentially take a semester out of school, 18 weeks, to live at the center, meeting with therapists and filling their time with dance therapy, crafts, monitored exercise and other activities gauged to draw patients away from compulsive behavior.

Harold Frost, who helped start the center in 1996, said he believes people can overcome eating disorders, but that it takes time, often years even, after leaving the center to fully recover.

He said despite the obvious physical manifestations of the disease, eating disorders ultimately stem from emotional pain.

"They really aren't about food. They really aren't about fat," he said. "They are about inner pain and wounding."

Information about the center, which does outpatient as well as inpatient care, is available by calling 224-8255.

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