NEDA walk brings hope to survivors, raises awareness about eating disorders

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Students, community members gathered March 25 to participate in a walk for the National Eating Disorders Association. COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

Students and community members gathered Sunday, March 25, outside of Campus Recreation for a walk sponsored by the National Eating Disorder Association. This walk was previously scheduled for over spring break, at the end of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, but was rescheduled to maximize participation.

NEDA is the largest nonprofit organization that supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders. They estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men have or will suffer from an eating disorder in the United States. Because of this, NEDA works to raise awareness and fund research for those in need.

The walk started at 10 a.m. with an opening ceremony and ended at 11 a.m. The fundraising goal was $10,000, and, according to the event’s website, $5,821 was raised. Top earning teams included one sponsored by the varsity men’s gymnastics team and the Marshall-Wythe School of Law. Additionally, Team Shamrock, which was organized by Elizabeth Ashley ’21, earned $300 and placed as the fifth highest earning team.

At the end of February, groups on campus organized different events surrounding eating disorders and body image. The College of William and Mary’s Counseling Center sponsored the National Eating Disorder Awareness Week on campus. They hosted Dana Suchow, a speaker and activist who overcame bulimia, binge eating disorder and compulsive exercising. She led a makeup removal workshop and a special presentation Feb. 27 about feminism, eating disorders and body image.

Feb. 28, students and experts led a panel about eating disorders and diet culture. This walk was initially planned for a weekend over spring break at the end of this week, but was later rescheduled.

Ashley, one of the students on Team Shamrock, chose to participate because of her personal background with an eating disorder.

“I decided to participate in the walk because I’ve been battling an eating disorder myself for nearly two years, and I’m finally in recovery and I wanted to celebrate how amazing it feels to be healthy,” Ashley said.

“I decided to participate in the walk because I’ve been battling an eating disorder myself for nearly two years, and I’m finally in recovery and I wanted to celebrate how amazing it feels to be healthy,” Ashley said. “The walk itself was so well planned, the speakers were so inspiring and it reminded me why I’ve made this journey and that I’m not alone. I walked with some of my best friends and having their support just fills me with love, they’re amazing and I don’t know where I’d be without them.”

Louisa Janssen ’21, one of Ashley’s close friends, also participated in the walk as part of Team Shamrock. Janssen said she chose to participate to support Ashley and because of how close the issue was to her.

“NEDA is important to me because of my personal experience with an eating disorder,” Janssen said. “I was formally diagnosed with bulimia nervosa at 15, and I’ve been through treatment by a psychiatrist and therapist since. I wish I could say that treatment was easy, and that things were magically resolved after a few trips to the counselor, but eating disorders are a complex illness that can take years to treat. Although I now call myself a survivor, my ED continues to affect me to this day. … Knowing that other people are out there who’ve had the same experience is also comforting and helpful, and I want to do everything I can to remind others suffering from an ED that they are not alone.”

Sam Wooley ’18 said that NEDA is an organization that is very important to her because she and several of her friends have been affected by eating disorders. When she saw that her sorority had formed a team to support a member that is recovering from anorexia, she said that she felt that she needed to be there to support her.

“For me, this was a very hopeful event,” Wooley said. “There was excellent turnout, and it was wonderful to be surrounded by fellow survivors, allies and advocates. I’m so glad to see increased eating disorder awareness events on campus – especially since [Colleen Reichmann] was brought on board last year, there has been a lot more conversation about the reality behind eating disorders and their presence on campus. I really hope that this event helped bring continued awareness to campus. I also hope it helped give those who attended a feeling of support — I definitely remember a time when I wasn’t sure if I would ever fully recover of if I even had a future. For me, the support and acceptance of those around me was crucial in my recovery. For those who don’t know about the event, it’s an event that both fundraised for NEDA and raises awareness and support for those who have been affected by eating disorders in our community.”

For both Ashley and Janssen, one of the most important parts of the event was the awareness it raised for NEDA’s goals of destigmatizing eating disorders and promoting awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness.

“I think that the event spread awareness about eating disorders and the false stigmas surrounding them,” Ashley said.

“I think that the event spread awareness about eating disorders and the false stigmas surrounding them,” Ashley said. “It’s so important to create a healthy and happy atmosphere [surrounding] mental health and eating disorders, especially in stressful environments like college campuses and I feel like the walk really created that safe space. I would want to tell someone who didn’t know about the event that eating disorders are so unrecognized and stigmatized and that the walk was an amazing way to dispel myths and to support an amazing community of warriors.”