Supporting Students with Eating Concerns with Susan Denny, LPC-S

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  1. What is your role at Davidson?
    I am a counselor at the Center for Student Health and Well-Being (CSHWB)., and I coordinate the Eating Concerns Team (ECT). I am also coordinating outreach around body positivity with the ECT.

  2. What is the Eating Concerns Team?
    The Eating Concerns Team (ECT) is a multidisciplinary team that includes a mental health counselor, two dietitians, and medical providers from the Center for Student Health and Well-Being. The AECT is the Athletic Eating Concerns Team and it includes a mental health counselor, two dietitians, medical staff including the team physician, and athletic trainers. The multidisciplinary team approach is considered best practices for assessment and treatment of disordered eating and eating disorders. This collaborative approach allows us to provide comprehensive recommendations on how to best support students struggling with disordered eating. We are usually able to provide treatment within our team; however, sometimes students need a higher level of care, and sometimes students choose to seek treatment off-campus.
    The ECT is also working on prevention and outreach. We are excited to offer several webinars for athletics, staff/faculty, and students, as well as a creative arts campaign called Love Your Tree for students this semester. This is the Love Yourself. Starting the Conversation campaign. We are working to talk about the harmful effects of diet culture and reduce the stigma of disordered eating. People of every age, gender, race, class, sexual orientation, size, or background can have an eating disorder or disordered eating. We want to move towards celebrating our unique bodies.
    Through our efforts of outreach to reduce the stigma about disordered eating, we hope students seek help in the early stages of an eating concern. Our multidisciplinary team provides a comprehensive assessment and recommendations so that students can receive the treatment and support needed as efficiently as possible.

  3. What resources are available to students struggling with an eating disorder?
    Our Eating Concerns Team provides the medical, nutritional, and mental health assessments to any student who presents with disordered eating. Students with disordered eating or an eating disorder can contact any of the three disciplines to start receiving help. Some students would rather start with the nutritional appointment, while others want to talk with a counselor, or medical provider. The earlier a student reaches out for help the more likely we will be able to provide the support on campus.
    If a student does not want to receive these assessments at the CSHWB, the student can ask for referral information. We have a comprehensive list of mental health counselors, nutritionists, and medical providers in the north Charlotte area who specialize in eating disorders.

  4. What signs of an eating concern should families be aware of in their students?
    We know dieting is a slippery slope to disordered eating. If you hear your student talk about wanting to try a new fad diet, or eat more clean, these are signs that your student may be controlling their food intake and creating rules around food. For a full list of warning signs, please see the National Eating Disorder Association’s website.
    Often, parents/family members of students who have eating concerns feel unwarranted guilt from not knowing what was going on. Even if we know all the signs and talk openly, families may still not be able to fully protect their student from an eating disorder. We talk to parents/family members about releasing those feelings around guilt. There are great resources, including parent/caregiver support groups, and we can provide them as needed.

  5. Are faculty and staff on the lookout for these signs?
    The ECT is providing outreach opportunities for staff and faculty through a webinar on February 12. All faculty and staff have different levels of comfort with mental health. All faculty and staff know the CSHWB can help students. Many faculty and staff also develop trusting relationships with their students and can empower students to ask for the help they need.

  6. Are there concerns that the stress of COVID may be impacting eating disorders?
    Nationally, there has been an increase in all mental health concerns, including eating disorders during COVID. Disordered eating is a behavior symptom of other underlying mental health concerns, and we know that eating disorders are not primarily about food and body. While there are many things out of our control during the pandemic, our food intake is still in our control and provides a measurable and quantifiable goal, which can feel stabilizing in a time of the unknown. What starts out as a diet or clean eating can be a slippery slope to disordered eating and eating disorders.

  7. Recognizing that parents/family members cannot access their students’ medical records, what is the best way for families to ensure their students are receiving the care they need?
    We encourage parents/family members to have conversations with their students. One approach may be, “I’ve heard disordered eating is increasing this year, is this something you have experienced?” This is a way to open the door for your student. You can remind your student that there are dietitians, counselors, nurses and doctors on staff at Davidson to help them. Many students do not always remember all the resources on campus. If you are concerned about your student, you can complete the Student of Concern form.
    If a student is referred off campus for a higher level of care than we can provide, we highly encourage students to sign a Release of Information for a primary support person to help them through this process. This primary support person is often a parent/family member. Once this release of information has been signed, our ECT will be able to work with families and their students to guide you through this process.

  8. If families are concerned their students may be struggling with an eating concern, what can they do to support their students, on or off campus?
    Families can highly recommend their student meet with a counselor, nutritionist, or medical provider about what is going on for that student. If the family member is concerned that their student is not reaching out for help, the family member can submit a Student of Concern form.
    During semester breaks, families can also encourage students to make an appointment with an eating disorder specialist in their area. The Alliance for Eating Disorders has a provider list on their website.
    The Alliance for ED also provides multiple resources for loved ones supporting someone with an eating disorder, which can be found online.

  9. If students are concerned their friends/roommates/teammates may be struggling with an eating concern, what can they do to support each other?
    Avoid commenting on weight or appearance – theirs or others. Focus on qualities unrelated to food or physical appearance.
    Explore your own relationship with food, weight, size, and shape. What does health eating look like to you? How much of this is impacted by media and diet trends?
    Choose a private time and place to have a conversation expressing your concern.
    Be deliberate in your conversation, and express your concerns using “I statements.” (Seek support with these conversations through counseling services, if you want.)
    Be prepared for a negative reaction.
    Encourage the friend to seek professional help at the Center for Student Health and Well-Being.
    Know that showing concern is important. Even if you feel like the discussion did not go well, know that your care did make an impact.
    Students can also fill out a Students of Concern form.
Opportunities at Davidson for Students in Spring 2021: Love Yourself. Start the Conversation
  • Body Project 1 hour PE credit – starts Feb. 9, 4:30-5:30 p.m. Registration is open now.
  • Positive Body Image Counseling Group – Mondays starting Feb. 22, 7-8:15 p.m. virtually. Students can mail Susan Denny, sudenny@davidson.edu for more information to participate.
  • SMASH Talk – Webinar Panel Discussion in collaboration with the Alliance for Eating Disorders to smash the stigma associated with mental health and diet culture.
  • February 16, 7-8:15 p.m. virtually. Students can register online.
  • Love Your Tree – creative arts project
  • To-go art material available on the first floor of the Union for individual art pieces.
  • Outreach presentation available for student groups to dive deeper into body image metaphor of the tree and the body. Students can contact Susan Denny, sudenny@davidson.edu to schedule this for their group.
    For more information on the national Love Your Tree event go to: loveyourtree.org
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