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By Selena Stevens

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"Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are really running rampant on most college campuses.  At our center, we are seeing an increasing number of students who are raising these issues with us."

-- Gabriella Pessah,
eating-disorder specialist with UK's Counseling and Testing Center

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Sept. 29, 1999 – (Lexington, Ky.) –  As an alarming growth in eating disorders sweeps college campuses across the United States, counselors at the University of Kentucky are stepping up to the battle.

The UK Counseling and Testing Center put a university-wide task force dubbed UK CARES into full action this fall semester. With a mission to aid in the treatment and prevention of eating disorders, UK CARES includes students, professionals, recovering individuals and concerned UK community members.

"Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are really running rampant on most college campuses," said Gabriella Pessah, an eating-disorder specialist with the Counseling and Testing Center. "At our center, we are seeing an increasing number of students who are raising these issues with us."

Between 5 and 10 percent of U.S. girls and women – or 13 to 27 million – suffer from some sort of eating disorder. Over 1 million boys and men – less than half of 1 percent of the U.S. population but a quickly growing demographic – also show symptoms.

To get a handle on the level of eating disorders at UK, counselors began tracking attitudes through evaluation questionnaires filled out by students visiting the center. The results indicated that 6 percent of students use diets to control their weight, 9 percent are extremely afraid of becoming overweight, 4 percent binge and 2 percent control their weight in other ways.

"This indicates to us these students are spending a lot of time focusing on eating instead of healthier ways to control weight," Pessah said. "It says they are not comfortable with how they look, how they feel or who they are."

Although individual counseling for eating disorders always has been available through the center, UK CARES was initiated this spring to offer a coordinated approach to helping individuals and educating the community at large. To create the group, Pessah worked with Jill Kindy, health educator and dietician with the University Health Service. Counseling, awareness, resources, education and service coordination form CARES and serve as its mission.

"The idea is to help people get what they need to overcome their disorder," Pessah said. "That may be medical treatment, counseling or another form of treatment."

Because eating disorders have emotional, physical and mental aspects, helping people overcome them can involve a lot of time and a lot of patience. For college students, finding a reason behind the disorder is even more complicated.

"This is the first time away from home for many students. This is the first time they are responsible for their own eating habits," Pessah said. "There is a lot of pressure on students from family, friends and professors. They have mixed feelings about leaving home, and a lot of relationship issues come up for the first time. They run into self-esteem issues when they start to compare themselves with other students. All of these changes complicate life, can cause eating disorders and complicate their treatment."

Treatments are further complicated by the nature of the disorder and human condition, Pessah said.

"Someone who is struggling with alcoholism can choose to stop drinking. A person with a gambling addiction can choose to stop gambling," Pessah said. "A person with an eating disorder has to continue eating. They have to face their issues every day."

Warning signs of eating disorders include a marked increase or decrease in weight; development of abnormal eating habits, such as severe dieting; preference for strange foods; withdrawn or ritualized behavior at mealtime; secretive binging; an intense preoccupation with weight and body image; compulsive or excessive exercising; self-induced vomiting; periods of fasting or laxative, diet pill or diuretic abuse; and feelings of isolation, depression or irritability.

"If you approach someone you think has a eating disorder, talk to them out of concern. Tell them you have noticed this and are concerned for them. Let them know you care," Pessah said. "But recognize they may not be ready to do something about the disorder."

Students, faculty, staff and UK community members are encouraged to take part in UK CARES and contact the Counseling and Testing Center for more information about eating disorders. UK CARES advocates, student volunteers who will act as resource persons, will be trained in mid-October. For more information, contact Gabriella Pessah at 257-8701 or

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