Parents’ gift helps spread eating disorder awareness
By James Pusey Staff Writer
Published: Friday, February 19, 2010 10:25 PM CST
Sunday marks the beginning of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and the parents of one former Iowa State University student need no reminder of how important the topic is.
Arnie and Marcia Fischer, of Ankeny, watched as their daughter, Emily, fought anorexia for more than 20 years until it took her life in August 2009.
“She was just never able to shake free of it,” Marcia said. “She reached sort of a point of no return only because she couldn’t embrace recovery, and we don’t know why.”
Emily’s eating disorder started during her freshman year at ISU in 1988. She sought help during her sophomore year, and she received out-patient treatment at the Story County Medical Center.
Though it was a frightening time, her parents said she made some big improvements. They thought she was free from her addiction, but they were wrong.
The anorexia came back later in her working life, when the stresses of traveling and being away from family caught up to her, Marcia said.
“It did change her personality, and it made it hard to be around her,” Marcia said. “I’d liken it to any kind of addiction. It’s hard to be around addicted people.”
Emily entered several different treatment programs, but she did not commit fully to any of them even though she did want to recover, Arnie said.
“She knew she could be better,” Arnie said. “She had the right kinds of foods in the refrigerator; she just couldn’t force herself to eat.”
Five weeks before her death, doctors told Arnie and Marcia there was little more they could do for her. If she didn’t want to get better, she wouldn’t get better.
After Emily’s death, Arnie and Marcia were notified of memorial funds available through her old sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.
They knew Emily would want the money to go toward helping people who were in her situation, so they decided to donate it toward Eating Disorders Awareness Week activities at ISU.
“When she died, what I wanted was something good to come from her death,” Marcia said. “I knew right away that that’s exactly where we wanted to put the money.”
ISU will host a variety of events to spread awareness of eating disorders this week, said Michelle Roling, a counselor and eating disorders treatment coordinator at Student Counseling Services.
She said about one in every 10 people suffers from an eating disorder, and at any given time, there are upwards of 40 students at ISU receiving treatment for eating disorders.
“We’re seeing more cases from year to year,” Roling said.
The most important step to healing an eating disorder, Roling said, is being able to talk about it openly.
“Eating disorders are about denial, isolation and shame, so it’s important to reach out and be honest with people about what’s going on,” Roling said.
Students can take advantage of eating disorder treatments for free, Roling said, and she said there’s no better time than the present to get help for an eating disorder.
Michelle Hendricks, director of the Thielen Student Health Center, said the awareness week is important, not only for those who are potentially suffering from eating disorders, but also for those who might potentially refer someone to counseling.
“Clearly, we know that these are issues that tend to manifest themselves in this age frame,” Hendricks said. “We need to maintain our awareness about this, and we need to have good diagnosis skills when it comes to recognizing potential signs.”
Some of this week’s activities include Mirrorless Monday, when mirrors on campus will be covered with paper so students can write positive statements about themselves.
There will also be speech by Jenni Schaefer, a recovered bulimic who has written several books on the subject, at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22, in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.
Students with concerns about eating disorders can contact:
• Thielen Student Health Center, corner of Sheldon Avenue and Union Drive, on the west side of campus, (515) 294-5801.
• Student Counseling Services, third floor, Student Services Building, north of Friley Hall, (515) 294-5056.