Some dorms cover up mirrors to raise awareness about eating disorders

(U-WIRE) Caleigh Townsend developed an eating disorder a year or two ago when her parents were going through a divorce.

“I was seeking attention, and it was something I could control. It was my release from everything,” said Townsend, a business management freshman, who said she has since recovered.

This year, the University of Kentucky is putting on the Mirrorless Moments campaign as part of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Mirrors in residence halls, Greek housing and other areas around campus will be covered up to raise awareness about the struggles of people like Townsend who have dealt with eating disorders.

“It all starts off when you look in the mirror and tell yourself you’re fat and ugly,” Townsend said. “What you have to do is look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m beautiful.'”

The campaign should encourage students to discuss eating disorders, which are usually considered “hush-hush situations,” said Jilly Kindy, a registered dietitian.

About 4.5 percent of UK’s Counseling and Testing Center’s clients have eating-disorder concerns, and 19.1 percent of clients have concerns about body image or eating behaviors, according to the center. The center offers free eating-disorder screenings on campus.

Eating disorders are much deeper than just a problem with self-image, said Rebecca Tabony, a staff psychologist for the center.

“They can start with the need to control something when other areas of a person’s life can feel out of control,” Tabony said. “Also, perfectionism can play a big part in developing an eating disorder — being more perfect as a competitor, as a son or daughter, as a student, as a girlfriend or boyfriend.”

Eating disorders do not just affect the victim, but branch out to family and friends as well, Tabony said.

“Friends may want to ‘fix’ the person,” Tabony said. “Treating an eating disorder is not a quick fix. It takes time and patience from all concerned, even the treatment team.”

People close to Townsend stepped in and helped her get treatment, and she began attending a counseling session every two weeks.

“My friends would say things to me about my weight,” Townsend said. “My mom basically forced me to go to the doctor.”

The short-term effects are a loss of hair, lack of energy, dental erosion and deterioration of a good immune system, Kindy said. Long-term effects could be anything from the softening of bones to heart problems and infertility.

“The worst-case scenario with eating disorders is death,” Kindy said. “It is the deadliest of the mental disorders.”

Townsend said she started losing weight, and gradually her weight loss turned into something more.

“I went to the doctor and after a while, my doctors were switched,” Townsend said. “I felt like I couldn’t trust my new doctor, and so I started taking laxatives. That’s when I hit rock-bottom.”

Townsend was able to stop her laxative use when she began to realize how much damage she was doing to herself.

“Some people don’t realize that when you are anorexic, it doesn’t just make your stomach small. Your other organs feed off of it,” she said.

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