National eating disorder awareness week sheds light on sensitive topic


President of the Kent State Body Acceptance Movement club Kylie McCann poses for a portrait in Rockwell Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.

Kylie McCann had reached her breaking point. Transformed into a person she didn’t know, McCann felt trapped and controlled by her eating disorder when she sought out counseling during her freshman year.

“I had a boyfriend all throughout high school and we broke up fall of my freshman year and that really hurt me,” McCann said. “I started to exhibit my anorexia behaviors again, and I realized that I just started back with an eating disorder because a boy broke up with me. That just made me cringe. I was just so angry with myself that I was putting my own life in danger because someone decided they didn’t want to be with me. That’s when I decided I was done and needed to do something different.”

Four years later, McCann is now the president of the Body Acceptance Movement (BAM) and is excited to help host the first National Eating Disorder Screening Day at Kent State University.

“This is something that I really wanted to see happen here,” McCann said. “A lot of times people don’t understand what they are doing can be harmful or unhealthy. Our goal with this screening day is to get people aware of their behaviors and encourage them to seek out help. If you can understand what eating disorders are before you complete the behaviors, that right there can prevent someone from getting to the point of being unhealthy and sick.”

Scott Dotterer, BAM faculty advisor and University Health Services coordinator, said the screening day started from student interest.

BAM members were very proactive in listening to the needs of campus, planning the screening day, securing funds, collecting educational materials and booking medical clinicians for the event.

“It’s one of these pieces where you have students who are trying to be very proactive about health and wellness issues,” Dotterer said. “Part of what we do is listening to our target audience, what their interests are, what their needs are and we also look at the data and try to address as much as we can. We really hope that students take advantage of whatever they can. If they aren’t available during the screening, try and take advantage of some aspect of the National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) week.”     

BAM member Elizabeth Garlinger believes part of the importance of hosting NEDA week and the National Screening Day is that eating disorders are not limited to demographics and there are people from every population who can be affected.

“Right now there are a lot of things that are going on in our media, in our lives and in our culture, that are shifting behaviors,” Garlinger said. “Within BAM we find it to be essential to address the issues now and not wait another day. When you wait another day, that’s another person who spirals into a downward path or will maybe even damage their body beyond repair. We are nothing but hopeful for what our campus will receive and how it will change because of it.”

McCann said another important aspect of this NEDA week and the National Screening Day is education. She believes there is a strong stigma surrounding eating disorders and most people don’t know that is a psychological disorder, which leads to a lack of empathy.

This feeling of frustration and being misjudged is something McCann experienced personally during her battle with anorexia.

“One of the hardest parts about having anorexia is being misunderstood,” McCann said. “Every eating disorder is unique to the individual. Mine was unique in that it didn’t stem from body shaming. My eating disorder was fueled by anger over expectations and a stressful home life. I just wanted that control factor, I wanted more control over how I felt in my house and anorexia gave that to me.”

Today, McCann is a much stronger person and believes she is much more supportive and open-minded because of her anorexia.

Like Dotterer and Garlinger, McCann encourages anyone who feels vulnerable to body shaming or self-shaming to come to the screening or any NEDA week event and experience it.

“It’s not only a resource for those exhibiting the behaviors, but it can also be really important as a friend,” McCann said. “If a person is maybe in denial about their behaviors, their friend may come in and take the survey for them and explain to them that they are concerned and took the screen test for them and then provide them with all the materials.”

Similar to the alcohol and depression screenings, students can expect complete anonymity with participation and are guaranteed a safe and welcoming place to learn and receive guidance. Participants will fill out an anonymous questionnaire and have the opportunity to sit down privately with a counselor to talk about their scores.

“Students owe it to themselves to be healthy and happy and they shouldn’t feel embarrassed about asking for help,” McCann said. “I hope students leave feeling like they have learned something and can look through the resource bag and explore everything on their own.”

National Eating Disorder Screening Day will take place on Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m. in room 306 of the Kent State University Student Center.

Gabrielle Gentile is the Recreation and Fitness Reporter for the Kent Stater. For information contact her at [email protected].