Holy Cross Course Examines Eating and Its Disorders

Jumi Hayaki, professor of psychology, teaches on zoom

Course combats historical assumptions about the changing field of study

Professor Jumi Hayaki opens the Zoom meeting of her upper-level seminar on eating disorders like the researcher that she is, identifying the day's focus — a form of treatment known as motivational interviewing — and inviting students to discuss their perspectives on the efficacy of the approach. Members of the class respond with enthusiasm, diving into a lively round-table debate on the pros and cons of the treatment as described in the research studies and first-person account they have read and analyzed on the seminar's discussion board over the past week. One after another, they share their thoughts, responding to each other's views and interrogating the strengths and weaknesses of the treatment style.

Hayaki gently leads the discussion, probing observations to expand the discussion, countering misleading conclusions and shedding light on the nuances of this therapeutic approach. As the first hour of class draws to a close, she teases the topic students will tackle in the next hour's breakout sessions and asks them to ponder how best to engage patients on the issue of current self vs. ideal self. Students share a few final thoughts and then depart for a quick lunch break.

"One of my favorite things about this class is that everyone contributes so much," says Abbie Mokwuah '21, a double major in psychology and sociology with a concentration in gender, sexuality, and women's studies (above, second row, far left). "Class conversations really jump around, and everyone engages with the materials."

This is Mokwuah's second course with Hayaki and one of her favorite classes. "Professor Hayaki helps us to understand eating disorders in a more in-depth way, and the subject matter intersects with my major in sociology and my concentration in fascinating ways," she explains. Mokwuah plans to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology and says that although she didn't originally take the course with the idea of working with eating disorder patients, her views have shifted: "Based on my experiences in this seminar, I can see myself working with this population in the future."

Although Mokwuah plans to pursue a career in psychology, Hayaki notes that a long-term interest in the field is not a prerequisite for the seminar. "Most psychology majors don't necessarily go to graduate school in psychology, and most who do, don't do so right away," she observes. "This course is open to any student who has taken the prerequisite course in psychopathology, which offers a background on ways of thinking about mental illness. We touch on eating disorders — anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder — in that course, but in this seminar, we engage in a much deeper discussion of the subject. We look at what the disorders are, where they come from, how we understand them and how we research them."

Over the course of the semester, students read a series of clinical research studies on eating disorders as well as excerpts from several first-person memoirs, Hayaki says. They discuss the implementation and efficacy of various treatment methods and the mistaken beliefs that dominate the field. "Historically, there's been an assumption made by both the public and the research community that eating disorders only affect female, white, upper- and middle-class individuals and that's simply not true," she explains. "But, as a result, if you don't fall into that group, you're less likely to self-identify, seek treatment or be diagnosed by clinicians." Many early studies of eating disorders excluded men and people of color, so clinicians have an incomplete picture of the populations who experience these illnesses, she continues. "Many of our readings directly combat such historical assumptions."

Sarah Billis '21, a psychology and religious studies major (opposite page, top row, far right), appreciates the approach. "This course points out how much we don't know and how much the field of eating disorder studies is changing," she says. "Examining the research demands both qualitative and quantitative analysis, something that encourages me to be very present in the discussions and readings. I love Professor Hayaki's teaching style. She encourages critical thinking, present moment awareness and a constant checking for our own biases. She's taught me to explore connections across disciplines and educated me on ways to ask and answer my own questions."

Billis says the class has also helped her find her niche in psychology and solidify her career path. Currently a senior interviewer at Holy Cross, Billis plans to work in college admissions for a few years, attend graduate school in psychology and then pursue a career in school psychology or school counseling: "I love learning about people and connecting what I know with data and research to help them get better. What I'm learning in this course will help me do that."

Course Catalog

PSYC 334: Eating and Its Disorders

PROFESSOR: Jumi Hayaki

DEPARTMENT: Psychology

DESCRIPTION: This course is an advanced seminar in clinical psychology in which students explore select themes from the eating disorder field. How are eating and related disorders diagnosed, and do these classification systems fully capture their phenomenology? How do childhood influences and family dynamics interact with behavioral genetics to manifest eating pathology in childhood, adolescence and adulthood? Why were eating disorders so long considered "culture-bound" syndromes that only affect certain persons, and what were the consequences of these firmly held assumptions? Why do some efforts to prevent eating disorder onset fail? As students explore these and other questions, they critically examine the methods used and theories applied to acquire knowledge about eating disorders – as well as what we still do not know.

MEETING TIMES: Wednesday, 11:45 AM – 2:15 PM


REQUIRED READING: • Research articles from academic journals in the fields of clinical psychology, psychiatry, health psychology and public health • Scholarly editorials and reviews • "Book clubs" (first-person memoir excerpts)

ASSIGNMENTS (tailored to online semester): • Readings • Pre-class discussion board and essay • Final research project, including presentation (peer-reviewed) and paper

GRADES: • Class engagement, including class discussion and peer-led discussion facilitation • Final research project (with scaffolding interim assignments)

PREREQUISITES: PSYC 229 — Psychopathology

ABOUT THE PROFESSOR: Jumi Hayaki, professor of psychology, earned a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University. She is a widely published clinical psychologist whose research focuses on processes of emotion regulation as they relate to eating disorders and substance use disorders. She has been a member of the Holy Cross faculty since 2007.

Written by Lori Ferguson for the Winter 2021 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

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