Their ability to recover from the eating disorders that controlled their lives was the focus of the student panelists brought together for last night's discussion sponsored by Students Against the Abuse of Food and Alcohol.
The fourth-annual Fall term panel gave personal voices to the effects of eating disorders on members of the Dartmouth community and elsewhere. Students who had experienced the effects of an eating disorder either personally or through someone close to them told their stories to a supportive crowd in the Top of the Hop.
Many of the panelists agreed that the process of becoming a victim of a disorder was gradual, and by the time their daily lives were changing in response to their disorder, it was too late to catch themselves.
Kristin Steinert '04, who fought anorexia and bulimia for two years, said she was oblivious to the fears of people around her who noticed her problem.
"No one expressed concern, or at least I didn't hear them when they did," Steinert said. "While my parents were worried, everyone else loved it."
Another panelist, Lauren Hoehlein '05, described her slide into anorexia as a loss of control. She began running to get in shape after changing high schools before her sophomore year, and that led into trying to "eat healthy."
It was a process of "gradual anorexia," Hoehlein said. "I always hear girls saying, 'I could never be anorexic -- I don't have the self-control. But for me, it was a lack of control."
Hoehlein said her anorexia grew progressively worse throughout high school until she had no choice but to confront the problem.
"I came up with every excuse possible to deny the problem. The only thing I heard were compliments, or at least what I thought were compliments," Hoehlein said. "But it wasn't until I collapsed at the state cross country meet that I realized my problem."
However, the simple recognition of their problem and the effects the disorder had on their lives was not enough to entirely solve the problems for some panelists. The process of recovering a normal life and eating habits proved difficult for some.
"When I arrived at Dartmouth I found it difficult to admit that four years later I was still struggling," Ariel Churnin '05 said. "All I had to lose was pride."
Not all panelists spoke of their own struggles. Some discussed the effects of having someone close to them fighting an eating disorder.
Grace Lee '03 described her struggles with a roommate her sophomore year who struggled with compulsive exercise and an eventual progression to an eating disorder. She found that no matter how hard she and her fellow roommate tried, they could not convince their struggling friend to seek help for her problem.
"It is only the individual herself that can make the decision to seek help," Lee said. "As a friend it can be frustrating, but you have to be supportive and constructive and not push the issue."
The one panelist who spoke of a disorder aside from anorexia and bulimia was Elizabeth Allen '06, who was affected by her sister's struggle with compulsive overeating disorder and eventually the depression that progressed from it. Her sister would overeat, and then exercise excessively to compensate for her problem.
"How do you deal with watching someone's demise?" Allen asked. "I started doubting my own self worth. I felt a helpless fear of watching my mother cry and my father deal with [my sister] as if she were his project."