Eating disorders awareness recognized at Samford

Chelsea PenningtonFeatures Writer |

This week, Feb. 24-March 2, Samford recognizes an important issue that affects up to 24 million people who suffer from eating disorders by joining in the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

A panel discussion on Feb. 26 from 8-9:30 p.m. in Brock Forum allowed students to better understand what causes eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, and how they can help loved ones who struggle from these disorders.

Samford is not exempt from the eating disorder epidemic. Dr. Rich Yoakum of the Student Health Services has counseled many students—he estimates 20% of all who come in—dealing with eating disorders.

“The first step of treatment would involve assessment of the individual,” Yoakum explained. “Identifying the kind and severity of symptoms would indicate the level of treatment needed ranging from individual counseling to a need for inpatient treatment. The student would be a part of the decision making process as it is determined what level of treatment would be most conducive for a healthy lifestyle.”

Yoakum said that the Eating Disorders Awareness Week can help those struggling with this problem.

“I think events during Eating Disorders Awareness Week provide students with the boldness and courage to support one another and help decrease negative stigma associated with the disease,” Yoakum said.

Many people do not realize what a widespread problem eating disorders are. In the U.S., approximately 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness; around 20% of anorexia victims eventually die from suicide or health complications related to the disease. 95% of people who struggle with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.

The widespread effect and destruction are due in large part to the media and cultural pressure to maintain a certain weight or size to be considered “pretty.” 65% of fifth through twelfth grade girls said that a magazine picture influenced their idea of a perfect body shape. Sadly, it is not just high school and college age girls who desire to be skinny. Forty-two percent of first through third graders wanted to be skinnier, and 81% of 10-year-olds admitted they were afraid of being fat.

Michelle McCorkle works at the Magnolia Creek Treatment Center for Eating Disorders, and for the past three years has helped people of all ages who suffer from this issue.

“When I was an undergraduate at Samford, Dr. Goldstein in the psychology department introduced me to Magnolia Creek’s clinical director at the time,” McCorkle says. “I started out as a research assistant helping with a study we’ve been doing in collaboration with Florida State University and Auburn University. I then became a Patient Care Tech and now work as Intake Coordinator here.”

McCorkle says Magnolia Creek helps ten patients at a time who stay at the facilities, and about eight partial hospitalization patients. Over the years, she has worked with many people who have come in because they need more help then they are able to give themselves.

“Eating disorders have a variety of causes, including genetic and cultural factors,” McCorkle says. “Generally, eating disordered behaviors function as unhealthy coping mechanisms; so, there are typically a variety of underlying factors that need to be addressed. As such, eating disorders are almost always accompanied by other mental health issues, most frequently posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, OCD, anxiety, and substance abuse. A lot of our clients have histories of trauma that have fueled the development of their eating disorders.”

McCorkle and the staff at Magnolia Creek recognize the importance of Eating Disorders Awareness week and the effects it can have.  “Eating Disorder Awareness Week provides a space to talk about eating disorders and dispel common misconceptions surrounding them. It’s often very difficult for the family members of individuals with eating disorders to understand why their loved ones engage in the behaviors that they engage in.”

Words of encouragement for anybody who struggles with this disease from Yoakum include: “Having an eating disorder is not a curse, it is treatable. If your decisions with food interfere with daily living and you just don’t feel like yourself, make an appointment with a professional to discuss the matter.” He says. “You are not alone.”

Samford’s National Eating Disorders Awareness week will include a photo booth in Ben Brown Plaza Wednesday from 11:30 to 1:30.

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