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ISSUE 117 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/5/2004

Participation low for eating disorder talk, screenings

By Jenna Barke
Copy Editor

Friday, March 5, 2004

The salad bar in Stav Hall is a pit stop for many, and on weekday afternoons, open elliptical machines in Tostrud are rare. St. Olaf is a place where healthful habits abound  but there is a fine line between being healthy and harming your body. This knowledge was not lost on the Counseling Center, which conducted a screening for eating disorders on Tuesday, Feb. 24.

The Counseling Center sponsors two mental health screenings every year: one in the fall, usually around November, for depression, and one during spring semester, normally during February, for eating disorders.

This years actual screening was comprised of two parts. First, participants were shown a 20-minute educational video outlining the signs and symptoms of eating disorders. After viewing the video, screening participants filled out a questionnaire concerning their eating behaviors to find out if they were at risk for a disorder.

After completing the screening, participants met with a member of the Counseling Center staff to review their answers, and, depending on their scores, discuss possible tactics for further intervention.

"We want to catch these people where we can and then see what we can do to help," Steve ONeill, counseling center director, said.

In the past, ONeill said, the typical turnout for eating disorder screenings has been around 25 people. During the last few years, however, the number has fallen to between 10 and 12 students annually.

This year, ONeill admitted, participation was "terrible": only two students turned up for the two sponsored sessions. ONeill speculated that this dramatic difference was due to a change in location for this years screening.

Normally, the Counseling Centers screenings take place in one of the meeting rooms in Buntrock Commons. This year, however, the screenings were held at the Counseling Centers home base in the Old Main Annex. The distance of the Annex from the rest of the campus and possible confusion about the location change most likely contributed to this years decreased participation, ONeill said.

According to ONeill, disordered eating is "certainly a significant issue" at St. Olaf. ONeill said, however, that these types of problems are "not limited to St. Olaf."

"These things are pretty typical among the 18-to-23-year-old range of college students," O'Neill said. "You find problems like this at many of the traditionalized colleges: If you go to Luther, Carleton, Gustavus ...youre going to find that no matter where you go, theyre always a concern."

Several St. Olaf students, who preferred to remain anonymous, have attended the Counseling Centers screenings in past years. One student took part in the screenings because of concern for a friend with an eating disorder, taking the questionnaire with her friends patterns in mind. "The questions really hit you, because you often see these behaviors and take them for granted," she said.

A pamphlet about eating disorders provided by the Counseling Center at the screening had questions such as "Do I weigh myself every day?" "Do I skip at least one meal a day?" "Do I exercise because I have to, not because I want to?"

The sad reality, according to another student, is that "answering yes to these questions seems totally normal."

The challenge of the screenings can be summarized best by the buttons passed out by the Wellness Center during the course of the week. Made to prompt students to accept their own bodies, each button contains two simple words. The phrase? Love your body: "AS IS."

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