Eating Disorder Awareness Symposium at Rutgers focuses on 'wellness over weight'
On Wednesday afternoon, the Rutgers Nutrition Club and the Rutgers Eating Disorder Organization hosted an Eating Disorder Awareness Symposium.
Present at the event were three guest speakers along with representatives from Rutgers Student Health, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and GenPsych Mental Health and Substance Abuse Facility.
The event was held from 2 to 5 p.m. at the New Jersey Institute of Food, Nutrition, and Health located on Cook campus. More than 50 people were in attendance, including students and faculty members.
Appropriately, the program date, March 1, intersects with National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and is also the first day of National Nutrition Month, said Ali Senatore, president of the Rutgers Nutrition Club.
The symposium aimed to create a platform for a forum of experts to discuss the identification, nutritional counseling, treatment and behavioral rehabilitation of the different types of eating disorders, Senatore said.
“Our goal today is to combat the stigma that keeps so many college-aged students from confronting an eating disorder in order to foster a healthy relationship with food,” the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior said. “We hope that the information received here today will be able to put a different, enhanced perspective on the topic to our audience.”
In her program introduction, Senatore thanked the members of Nutrition Club for their work in organizing the event.
The event commenced by introducing on-campus resources with a presentation by health education specialist Mark Cruz from the Health Outreach, Promotion, and Education (H.O.P.E.) department, part of Rutgers Student Health.
Cruz spoke about the programs and counseling services that are available to Rutgers students.
“One of the things that we would like to do is to combat stigma in all shapes and forms,” Cruz said.
He introduced the Counseling, Alcohol, and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) program on campus, which provides individual and group counseling.
The first guest speaker was Judith Oshinsky, a psychotherapist who focuses on eating disorders in her office in Highland Park. Oshinsky briefly described the characteristics of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and orthorexia, which is an obsession with clean eating that can lead to reduced calorie intake and drunkorexia, which she defined as disordered eating in combination with alcohol abuse.
“Nearly 91 percent of women on a recently surveyed college campus had attempted to control their weight by dieting,” Oshinsky said.
She said 1 in 10 women in the United States will be diagnosed with an eating disorder and noted that eating disorders are the most lethal of all the mental health disorders.
“We used to think of it as a teenage female disorder. We now know that it’s not discriminatory,” she said.
She also discussed the causes of eating disorders.
Eating disorders are multi-determined, she said, citing societal influences, as well as psychological, inter-psychic and neurobiological factors that contribute to the onset of the conditions.
Oshinsky said that eating disorders have a very high comorbidity with other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
“I have never seen an eating disorder without anxiety. Underneath every eating disorder is anxiety, and anxiety correlates very closely with depression,” she said.
When a student in the audience asked about the best way to help a friend who suffers from an eating disorder, Oshinsky said, “Love them.” She stressed that it is never easy to bring such issues to the forefront, but it is important to confront them.
Another speaker, Laura Cipullo, a registered dietitian specialized in eating disorders and a four-time best-selling author, said it is impossible to know whether a person is struggling with an eating disorder.
“We need to not prejudge anybody,” she said.
People with an eating disorder can be underweight, at a healthy weight or overweight, she said.
Cipullo also called attention to society’s misusage of the word "diet." The dictionary definition of the word, she said, is actually “habitual nourishment.”
“As dietitians and nutrition students we need to redefine what diet is to the public," she said. "Diet is taking care of yourself every day and giving yourself nutrition. It is not deprivation.”
Cipullo outlined her plan for positive nutrition, which focuses on wellness, not weight.
The final guest speaker was Greta Gleissner, the executive director of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, an in-home and community based eating disorder recovery support program, and a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette who fought a lifelong battle with bulimia. She described her story, from the onset of her disorder as a child to her long and difficult recovery as an adult.
After the three speakers, audience members were given the opportunity to share their own stories and eating habits, and to ask additional questions to presenters.
This was the first large-scale event the Nutrition Club has organized.
Senatore, who was very pleased with the reception of the symposium, said, “Rutgers Nutrition Club typically hosts single-speaker events, but nothing to this caliber — certainly not nationally published to any prominent organizations like the National Eating Disorder Association.”
Christina Chan, the treasurer for the Nutrition Club, initiated the idea for the symposium.
“We had this idea last semester, but we didn’t begin contacting speakers until over winter break. So it’s been in the works for some time," said Chan, a School of Biological and Environmental Sciences junior.
Due to the success of the symposium, Senatore said that she and her peers are considering holding the event again next year.
“We wanted to disseminate information while also providing a safe space to share stories in order to raise awareness about the topic,” she said. “We were so glad to reach so many students from different majors and ages. It was such an honor to provide an event like this to the Rutgers community. As one brave attendee said perfectly, ‘everyone knows someone.’”
Christina Gaudino is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in public policy. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.