By Betty Lavandero
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders, at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. I never thought I would be a statistic, but in December of 2012, I became a part of those 30 million.
“I’m not getting in there,” I said. My mom was patiently waiting outside of her gray minivan on a freezing December day. I knew she was slowly losing her patience with me.
“Oh yes you are,” she said. I let out an exasperated breath and hesitantly opened the passenger door.
I had been struggling with body image issues my whole life. I began to notice different patterns with my eating and exercising habits when I was in the 7th grade. It slowly became an obsession for me. I knew how many calories were in every meal I consumed and I would find ways to work out three to four times a day. I was walking down an unhealthy road, and I wasn’t sure how to stop. When my mom finally expressed her concern to me she asked if I would go to a treatment program. I knew it was either give into my mom’s concerns or continue to be sick. There was only one option.
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” was humming on the radio station as we pulled into the parking lot. There was a huge porch covered in rocking chairs with girls sitting outside enjoying fresh air. Some were reading books quietly to themselves, some were playing cards and laughing with fellow patients.
“I want you to just try one session. It’s going to be what’s best for you,” said my mom. She reached her arms out and waited for my hug.
As I entered the treatment center I looked around the room for an excuse to leave. Thankfully, I couldn’t find any. The walls were a light, calming pink with photographs on every surface of happy women (of all sizes). I approached the receptionist desk to check in, but she already knew. She gently nodded to the open door at the end of the hallway. I gave her a half-smile and walked in.
The chairs were assembled in a half circle with almost every seat filled. Not one woman looked the same: different sizes, different hair colors, different outfits, different attitudes. It was comforting to know that I was not alone and that women from all walks of life were sharing the same battle. I quickly found an open seat and got comfortable.
“Hi,” said a quiet voice next to me. “I’m Lauren,” she said, “what was it?”
She meant: “What was the event that finally got you to decide to enter a treatment center?”
“Thanksgiving,” I said, “I couldn’t eat. It’s usually my favorite holiday.” She nodded her head understandingly.
The room, though calm, was eerily silent.
Suddenly, a beautiful woman entered the room. She had beautiful blonde hair and the bluest eyes I had ever seen. She was tall and graceful. She walked towards the front of the room and sat down.
“Hello everyone,” she said. She had a big, genuine smile. “My name is Brittany and I’m going to be facilitating this group session,” she said. Brittany went on to share her experience with her eating disorder with the group. She had been diagnosed at the age of 12 and was in treatment until she was 22. She was a dancer with the New York City Ballet and attributed the pressure of staying thin as a performer with the progression of her eating disorder. She was sent into treatment after fainting during a ballet performance due to malnutrition.
It was comforting to learn that someone as beautiful and perfect as Brittany also struggled. It made me feel less alone.
“Who wants to share their story?” she calmly asked. The room was so silent you could hear a pin drop.
“No one?” she asked.
“We have an hour together, it would help if someone shared,” she said. Frustration was building in her voice.
“Okay,” she said. She slammed the notebook that was sitting in her lap closed. “I like cheese fries with bacon on top,” she told all of us.
“Ben & Jerry’s,” a voice suddenly spoke.
“Medium rare steak with a side of potatoes.”
“Cheeseburger and fries,” I said with a laugh.
Before I knew it, every woman had talked about what food item they loved the most. It was the first time food had been brought up not as a villain. It was not something we were afraid of, but something to love.
“I hope that taught us all something”, she said. “We are all here with our own stories and our own problems, but when we work together, we make each other better and healthier”
Lavandero is a public relations senior