Among the resources on campus to help meet students’ mental health needs, there is a specific interdisciplinary group of clinicians dedicated to helping students fight eating disorders.
“It’s basically a team of clinicians who work together to assist students battling different kinds of eating concerns,” said Calvin Chin, director of Counseling and Psychological Services. “The team works together to make sure that all of the different pieces involved in treating an eating disorder are addressed for students.”
Heading the team is Nathalie Edmond, psychologist and member of the CPS staff. According to Edmond, the team meets weekly to talk about themes or cases they are seeing on campus.
“My role is to coordinate the team, in terms of giving provision or consultation to providers on the team, looking at different ways we can do different outreach with them, or if there are particular themes coming up, [asking] is there a way we can provide resources,” Edmond said. “If there are challenging cases, I might provide more support, or I might coordinate discussion with administrators if that seems necessary.”
Edmond added that conversation with administrators does not come up particularly often. The priority is simply making sure the student gets the best care possible, either through University Health Services or by giving referrals to an outside community provider.
The team includes three psychologists, a psychiatrist, the University’s nutritionist, several medical providers, an advanced practice nurse, a physician, and an athletic trainer, according to Chin.
“It’s really cool that it’s interdisciplinary,” Edmond said. “It’s really a holistic approach.”
Both Edmond and Chin emphasized the importance of a multilevel approach. The medical perspective is important for understanding the possible negative consequences of eating too little, eating too much, purging, laxatives, or diet pills, as well as meal-planning and education on nutrition and getting the right amount of fueling for performance.
The psychological perspective works in tandem with the nutritional or medical, investigating emotional triggers that cause changes in eating patterns. The psychiatric approach is the final component, determining if there is any need for medication.
“The reason why there’s an interdisciplinary team is because oftentimes eating disorders involve not just psychological or emotional issues,” Chin said. “It’s really important that students who are battling are medically stable.”
Beyond just making the team more capable, Edmond also said that the interdisciplinary nature of the team allows students to come to them through a variety of avenues and ultimately makes the team more available and helpful to students.
“Students can enter from any doorway,” Edmond said. “They might be working with their athletic trainer, they might go in for a physical or an injury which could be disorder-eating-related or not; they might come in for depression and anxiety for counseling and then we discover they have some eating concerns … no matter where they enter that can be brought forth to a large team.”
One example of raising awareness that the team has been involved in, Edmond mentioned, was working with the organization , which usually has a week promoting eating disorder awareness in February. As a part of that effort, Edmond and her team worked with the Women’s Center to put together a “Love Your Genes” .
“It’s a way to acknowledge that you can love your body at any time,” Edmond said. “We had people write body-positive messages on the genes and displayed them at UHS.”
Edmond emphasized that the team’s work is not solely for people specifically with eating disorders, but that it also deals with a wider range of issues and conflicts students may have when it comes to their relationships with food.
“[The team] encompasses the wide range of concerns that we see along the disorder-eating spectrum,” Edmond said.
Eating disorders and concerns regarding relationships with food have been a concern of members of the University student body as of late. Zach Feig ’18 is organizing a series of monologues, submitted anonymously by students and performed by other students, about struggles with eating disorders.
Feig expressed some concern over the resources the University has attributed to eating disorders, but said he believes that the monologues can go a long way to bring more resources to those who struggle with the issue.
“It can be very hard to see that nutritionist because she sees all the athletes; that’s nearly a third of the campus,” Feig said. “Considering we’ve got one nutritionist whose job is to look after a third of the student body, if we double that, with one more nutritionist, that’s pretty big.”
Although he did say that the campus nutritionist’s role in seeing all student athletes does preclude her from taking general nutrition questions from the student body, Chin addressed that concern by saying that the team as a whole was able to handle student demand, and the variety of perspectives they had made them well equipped for treating the entirety of a problem a student might have.
“The team is adequately used. There is definitely a demand for services, there are students who battle a variety of eating disorders who are a part of our community,” Chin said. “They’re definitely active and working.”
Feig said his other primary goal in the monologues is to promote discussion among students to better understand the struggles fellow go through and what can be done to help one another.
“The goal is to spark dialogue and get people talking,” Feig said.
Edmond’s emphasis, aside from directly providing student care, also consisted greatly of raising awareness among the University committee as a whole, about having a healthy relationship with food and body image.
“The clinicians on the team are really dedicated to helping people understand the mind-body connection,” Edmond said. “There are a lot of cultural or societal pressures that can contribute to people having concerns around eating and body image, and we look to increase body activity and increase ways people can manage and express emotions.”
Ultimately, according to Edmond — although the team’s means may be varied, through medical, nutritional, or psychological treatments — the ends are always the well-being of the student.
“We often joke in our team meetings that it’s about the food, but it’s not about the food,” Edmond said. “We try to really involve the students in the process, and what is the best treatment for them.”