USF offers ‘Hope’ to people with eating disorders

To battle eating disorders, USF will offer free help to individuals with anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating problems.

The USF Hope House for Eating Disorders provides free support groups, therapy and classes for those with eating disorders and their families. About 29,000 women and 10,000 men have eating disorders in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, said Executive Director of Hope House and professor of psychiatry Dr. Pauline Powers.

“Eating disorders are illnesses, not choices,” she said.

Almost 4 percent of all American women have anorexia and more than 4 percent are bulimic, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The institute also estimates that between 2 percent and 5 percent of Americans binge-eat in a 6-month period. Between 30 percent and 40 percent of women have body-image concerns and may engage in restrictive eating, USF psychology professor Joel Kevin Thompson said. The USF Psychology Department does not have data on the prevalence of eating disorders among students.

Hope House has groups that address various eating disorders, from anorexia nervosa, the restriction of food intake, to binge-eating and bulimia, excessive eating followed by purging through induced vomiting or laxatives.

“The center has new monthly supportive intervention groups for body image for adults because often patients have body image problems leading to eating disorders,” Chief Operating Officer Suzanne Eldridge said.

Powers started the organization last year with the support of a $420,000 three-year grant from the Hilda and Preston Davis Foundation.

Though the Hope House is free for USF students, she said few have sought help from the center, perhaps because it is located off campus, at 509 South Hyde Park Ave.

Powers said only a handful of USF students have called the Hope House and that no students are enrolled in any of its programs.

“We would like students to know about USF Hope House and we might offer on-campus groups if requested,” she said.

The Hope House, however, is gaining popularity outside the student body. Powers said she has recently seen a change in her classes: More students are interested in learning about eating disorders because they may have friends or family members battling them.

Cheyenna Eversoll, a staff assistant at Hope House, said 41 participants are enrolled in the seven groups offered at the center.

Thompson said many different factors — such as unrealistic body-size expectations and pressure from peers, friends, romantic partners and parents — can trigger eating disorders.

Eldridge said eating disorders have important mental, emotional and physical aspects that require consideration during treatment. Hope House is an important step in the treatment process because it offers supplemental care for people with eating disorders, she said.

“Physicians don’t necessarily know the correct treatment for an eating disorder,” she said. “They often don’t know whether to send the patients to a psychiatrist, a nutritionist, a psychologist or an art therapist.”

The USF Department of Psychology clinic also offers treatment for individuals with eating disorders. For more information, call 813-974-2496.