New Group Reaches Out To Students With Eating Disorders

Elise Foley

By Elise FoleyThe Daily Northwestern

Allyson Jacobs said she started the Kill E.D. student group in January because last year, anorexia nearly killed her.

Jacobs, a Communication junior, said she ate only vegetables during Fall Quarter of her sophomore year.

“I started having chest pains and losing muscle control,” Jacobs said. “On my final exam, I could barely understand how to read the questions. Your brain shuts down.”

Jacobs said she sought help for her symptoms, but told no one that she had stopped eating properly. “I went to get help, but because the eating disorder takes over your life, you can’t admit you have a problem,” she said. “Secretly you desperately want someone to call you out. It’s exhausting.”

But doctors at Searle and Counseling And Psychological Services never suggested her health problems might be caused by an eating disorder, Jacobs said.

“I had to strip down in front of (the doctor),” Jacobs said. “If that hadn’t been enough to catch it, I don’t know what would be. For health professionals to neglect to suggest that, I think it’s irresponsible.”

Rebecca Berman, a registered dietitian and certified health education specialist to whom Searle often refers students, said that, in a limited session, eating disorders can be difficult to diagnose. Eating disorders can sometimes be disguised as vegetarianism, she said.

Jacobs was taken to a Ohio treatment center after her mother noticed there was a problem.

She said that when she returned to Northwestern, she realized other students might not be getting the help they needed through the university.

“This campus needs to do a lot more (to treat eating disorders),” Jacobs said. “If that’s the treatment I got, there needs to be something more for students here.”

Jacobs met Yekaterina Sigalova, a Weinberg sophomore, in the fall, and the two began planning a group to supplement eating disorder prevention and treatment on campus. Sigalova said she is a psychology major interested in eating disorders.

They founded Kill E.D., which stands for eating disorders, Jacobs said. “Anyone who has an eating disorder somehow affecting their life is welcome to come,” Jacobs said.

The group meets each Thursday for an hour to discuss eating disorders. At the first few meetings, members described their own experiences to establish trust, Sigalova said. About 10 students have come regularly, she said.

“If it’s a small intimate group, you’re more likely to talk to people,” Sigalova said. “The more open and honest we can be, the more helpful we can be.”

Visiting CAPS for help can be daunting, Sigalova said. “Maybe people will be more apt to talk if they’re talking to their peers,” she said.

Because eating disorders are especially prevalent on college campuses and among perfectionists, NU probably has a high number of cases, Jacobs said.

“A huge percentage of college women have eating disorders, especially at such an A-list school,” she said. “(NU’s) kind of textbook, really. It’s a problem for people just like at this school.”

Roki Abakoui, assistant director for clinical services at CAPS, said eating disorders seemed more prevalent at NU than at the university where she previously worked.

At CAPS, students with eating concerns can receive treatment recommendations from the Eating Disorders Taskforce, a joint project between Searle and CAPS, Abakoui said.

CAPS has limited sessions for students, so they usually refer eating disorder cases out to specialists in the area, Abakoui said.

“For anyone, it’s a process of kind of coming to terms with ‘I have this disease, I need to do something about it,'” Abakoui said. “We try to help them come to terms with this and get treatment.”