Shannon Scully (


AUBURN -- One in 20 college-aged women is affected by an eating disorder.

A group at Auburn University will address the problem at an eating disorder seminar on Thursday, March 4, at 6 p.m., in Haley Center, Room 2370.

"We've formed an informal group of individuals who are concerned about eating disorders and who are volunteering their time to ask, 'What can we do?'" says Liza Mueller, a counselor at AU's student counseling services.

Mueller's experiences with women at AU convinced her the national statistics apply to AU students and she hopes the seminar -- designed as an informative session -- will encourage affected women to seek help through counseling services.

Anorexia and bulimia are the two most prevalent eating disorders, Mueller said. Both diseases are caused by an overwhelming obsession with food.

Those afflicted with anorexia basically stop eating and lose up to 20 percent of their ideal body weight. Bulimia sufferers may appear normal or even slightly overweight. By binging and purging by vomiting or using laxatives, those with bulimia develop rigid rules about food, frequently counting calories and fat grams.

Problems don't always start in college either. Jane Turnbull, an AU junior majoring in psychology, was anorexic as a fifth-grader.

"I was hospitalized for almost a month when I was 11 because of anorexia," she said. "A year later, my best friend developed bulimia."

Today, Turnbull considers herself well, but she says that people with eating disorders are never completely cured.

"It's hard to know the cause of my problem," she says. "Instead of worrying about the cause, I just found the best thing to do was to focus on getting better."

Turnbull has joined Mueller, a group of health educators and a nutritionist in the effort to help other women at Auburn who might be suffering from eating disorders and will participate in the seminar.

Though eating disorders are a complex problem with several underlying causes, the major cause is dieting. Ten percent of people who go on diets develop an eating disorder, Mueller said.

"Everyone in our society is somewhat concerned with their weight and their appearance," she said. "But people with eating disorders become obsessed and base their whole identity on their body size."

People with naturally obsessive personalities and those with perfectionist tendencies are more prone to develop eating disorders.

Though the disease has typically been recognized as a female problem, a growing number of males with eating disorders are being recognized.

"Male athletes who have to maintain a certain weight to play a sport can develop eating disorders," Mueller noted. "But with males, leaving the team usually stops the eating disorder."

If left untreated, eating disorders can be fatal. Anorexia is especially dangerous because the starved body begins to use muscle fat to survive.

"Eventually, the body eats up the heart in order to live, and the person dies from heart failure," Mueller said.

A multi-treatment approach is needed to help those with eating disorders, she said. Individual treatment followed by group-counseling sessions are most effective.

"The best type of counseling involves medical and psychological treatment," Mueller said.

Anyone who is concerned about a friend or loved one must be careful in approaching them about their problem, said Mueller, adding the best help to is simply to be a good friend.

"Most people are in denial and are embarrassed to talk about their problems," she added. "Friends and family must be understanding and not be the food police. People with eating disorders cannot help themselves."

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CONTACT: Mueller, 334/844-5123; Turnbull, 334/887-0766.