At age 11, Marilee Fritsch just wanted to lose weight and be healthy. But it eventually turned into a disorder.
“I didn’t tell myself I was going to starve myself and hurt myself,” said Fritsch (junior-nutrition), who had anorexia nervosa. “But I got obsessed with it and saw it as a way to control something.”
Now, Fritsch, who was deemed cured in the summer of 2012, is a member of Penn State Student Nutrition Association and Penn State’s chapter of Active Minds, an organization devoted to erasing stigmas associated with mental illness.
This week, the two organizations have teamed up to raise awareness in the HUB-Robeson Center , as part of the National Eating Disorder Awareness Week or NEDAwareness Week, which ends Sunday.
Spearheaded by the National Eating Disorder Association, NEDAwareness Week is put on to “ultimately prevent eating disorders and body image issues, while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders,” according to the NEDAwareness website.
NEDA is organizing events across the nation, such as a panel with models and eating disorder experts, as well as lighting the Empire State building in NEDA colors, which happened Tuesday night, said Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of NEDA.
At Penn State, throughout the week, Active Minds and Penn State Student Nutrition Associationhas been at the HUB, handing out pamphlets and speaking with students, said Dave Sosnowski, co-president of the Penn State’s Active Minds chapter.
The group has materials for people to learn more about eating disorders, including interactive quizzes, references and information on how to talk with someone about his or her eating disorder, Sosnowski (senior-psychology) said.
The Active Minds chapter is also having people write on post-it notes what they are proud of and then posting them behind the chapter’s table at the HUB. The group will continue to be there until Friday.
“There are plenty of things to be proud of, whether it is physical or not,” Sosnowski said.
On Tuesday, there was a showing of “Beauty Mark,” which included a panel of people from University Health Services and Counseling and Psychological Services.
Mary Anne Knapp, a senior staff therapist with CAPS, said via email the reason women typically have eating disorders more than men is because of the higher standards society places on women.
But this does not mean men do not struggle with eating disorders.
“Men, particularly college men, also can struggle with eating disorders,” Knapp said. “Men may have a harder time recognizing that they have an eating disorder and coming for help.”
When Fritsch sought treatment for her eating disorder, she realized how common eating disorders are.
“Even if they don’t have one, they have thoughts,” Fritsch said. “They can be obsessed with the thought of losing weight.”
Even though she is technically cured, Fritsch still carries it with her.
“It’s still kind of with me and in the back of my head. I have friends who don’t want to get better, and they suffer for it,” Fristch said. “All mental illness is a lifelong thing, you have to want to get help.”
As for eating disorders on college campuses, the percentage of women and men affected by an eating disorder is 10 to 20 percent and 4 to 10 percent respectively, Grefe said.
Grefe said students are more likely to develop an eating disorder during college because coming to college can be an “anxious time.”
“They are vulnerable to an eating disorder. Just the idea of going to school brings on anxiety and change and pressure,” Grefe said.
This uncertainty can trigger a person to start dieting, over exercise and engage in unhealthy behavior, Grefe said.
In a survey done by NEDA, results found that more needs to be done on college campuses in terms of funding, awareness and treatment, according to a NEDA press release.
On Penn State’s campus, Knapp said the culture lends itself to the prevalence of eating disorders.
“The culture of thinness and fat phobia combined with the explosion of foods, the complexity of life issues and the intensity of developmental tasks make eating disorders and ‘body battling’ a serious problem,” Knapp said.
The CAPS program at Penn State offers three eating disorder recovery groups a semester, one meeting twice weekly and two others meeting weekly, Knapp said.
Healthy Eating and Living Support, or HEALS, is a program offered by UHS and CAPS to help combat eating disorders and promote healthy practices on Penn State’s campus, said Dr. Mickaela Hayes, a UHS physician with HEALS.
HEALS consists of a team of physicians, therapists, dieticians and case managers that treat the 50 to 75 participants active in the program at any time, Hayes said.
Hayes, one of the two physicians who actively see patients in the HEALS program, focuses on the medical aspect of eating disorders, and she said the medical consequences of eating disorders depend on the behavior being exhibited.
For anorexia, some of the side effects can be the loss of a menstrual cycle — which is bad for the bones — loss of hair, and the weakening or slowing of the heart muscle to the point that it cannot pump blood, Hayes said.
For bulemia, some common side effects include the tearing of the esophagus due to excessive vomiting, the wearing of tooth enamel, and damage to the back of one’s throat, Hayes said.
But Hayes said people who battle eating disorders can recover.
“Eating disorders, in particular, are best treated with collaborative care,” Hayes said. “Everyone brings their own area of expertise.”