Tami Maurer and Alex Martin, registered nurses, and Arianna Bickle, a yoga instructor, share a passion in raising awareness for those who struggle with an eating disorder. On Nov. 10, from 7:30 to 9:10 p.m., these women, who have personal experiences with the illness, shared their stories with 40 West Chester University students.
There were many people in attendance, including men and women, young and old, and those of all shapes, sizes and colors. The message of the night was that eating disorders are a psychological disease that can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender or race.
As people entered Sykes room 255 there were tables offering cookies, fruit, popcorn, and apparel available for purchase by Perfect As U Are, a business dedicated to “helping girls boost their confidence and embrace their beauty through continuous affirmation of their undeniable and immeasurable value,” according to their website.
Maurer, mother of a daughter in recovery from an eating disorder, and a cofounder of Perfect As U Are, spoke first. Maurer focused on the three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. She walked the audience through a PowerPoint presentation that outlined the medical aspects of these disorders, touching on the chemical and hormonal imbalances, symptoms, signs, effects, and treatment.
“Eating disorders are not an individual issue. They are a family issue. All units of the family must be involved, must come together, for the well-being of their loved one,” said Maurer.
Maurer also discussed the major issue for treatment that stems from lack of insurance coverage.
“Missouri is the first state whose insurance was reformed for eating disorders. I’m working with NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) now on improving Pennsylvania’s policy,” said Maurer.
Martin, in recovery from an eating disorder, shared that going from being a very active athlete in an all-girls high school to taking a break from sports in college is what began the spiral of negative thoughts that ultimately landed her in Renfrew, an eating disorder treatment facility.
“My world was changing… I was out on my own trying to make friends, and I can remember the first week of school meeting these girls who were talking about dieting and going out, and I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to look like them,” said Martin.
Martin also added that she was petrified of gaining the “freshmen fifteen.”
Being away at college and away from her parents made keeping her disorder a secret easy for Martin.
“I would go to the gym in the morning,” said Martin. “I would go to the gym at night, and I remember enjoying the feeling of going to bed on an empty stomach.”
According to Martin, she was “lonely and depressed.”
“I kept thinking that once I lost weight, I would be happy. But I reached that weight and I wasn’t happy,” said Martin. “My hair was falling out. I was pale. I was underweight. After a few months of not eating, I thought maybe I could try to let food back into my life, which led to intense binge eating for almost a whole year. I lost control.”
Eventually, Martin sought help.
“I admitted myself to Renfrew and was there for three weeks in residential treatment,” said Martin. “During that time, I remember my therapist saying, ‘Why don’t you just give yourself a chance? Why don’t you try to love yourself?’ I realized that she was right. Until you believe in yourself, you won’t recover.”
Martin gave herself that chance and began getting involved with events in Renfrew, where she met friends and found herself enjoying life again. She left residential treatment and continued therapy for about two years.
“Now I really enjoy talking to people about this and helping them. I changed my career from business to nursing because of the effect it has had on my life,” said Martin. “My ultimate goal is to be happy and healthy, in body, mind and soul.”
Bickle, an eating disorder survivor and NEDA volunteer, spoke next. Her story differed from Martin’s in that she was 12 years old when she developed an eating disorder. She grew up as a competitive dancer and attended a summer camp in Grand Rapids City Ballet for a full-month intensive stay-in program, where she took ballet classes, worked on a repertoire, and participated in a nutrition program.
“So, that sounds a little absurd. I’m 12 years old sitting down for a nutrition seminar. I’m watching these beautiful ballerinas, who I looked up to as a young girl, and they’re telling me what they eat and what their everyday routines were,” said Bickle.
She remembered being inspired by the older girls and, at the end of the summer, deciding she was going to get serious in the studio.
“I wanted to be the best,” said Bickle. “I became a little bit obsessive.”
Bickle’s obsession led to her being hospitalized. One night after classes, her ballet teacher brought her into the hallway and asked her what was going on. After discussing Bickle’s exhaustion with her parents, she began going to therapy, where she struggled to open up and make progress. As her weight continued to decrease, she was admitted and hospitalized.
“I remember my mom was holding my hand. I was scared, and my mom started crying,” said Bickle. “She stepped into the hallway, and I had overheard a conversation between my doctor and my parents that because of how low my heart rate was, if I had waited a week or two longer, I would have probably had some sort of fatality. I was so close.”
According to Bickle, although “dance was what led [her] into the hole, it was also what pulled [her] out.”
Bickle believes that art therapy, whether it be dancing or painting or writing, is the most powerful form of recovery. Her will to dance again supported her recovery process.
Bickle became yoga certified in college and now teaches people that the functionality of their bodies is the most beautiful part.
The night concluded with a Q&A forum and a short meditation led by Bickle.
Meredith Miller, Community Outreach Chair of BODYpeace, planned Eating Disorder Awareness Night as her senior capstone project.
Megan Monachino is a fourth-year student majoring in English writing with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at MM783809@wcupa.edu.