In today’s world, 30 million men and women among a multitude of identities suffer from eating disorders. This does not include the millions of children, teenagers, adults, and seniors who will not receive proper care, or the millions who will deny themselves of treatment. These numbers do not account for the people who are silently suffering, and are not yet aware that they are in dire need help. These numbers fail to recognize those who are told that their suffering is invalid, and overlooks those who do not collect a paycheck substantial enough to provide for treatment. The number 30 million, though inconceivably vast, only skims the surface of those directly and obliquely impacted by eating disorders.
Early this morning, this grandiose number of 30 million was put into perspective. Today I, alongside thousands of other enlivening individuals, decided to show up for the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). Today, thousands of people decided to show up for a disorder that has been dressed in shame in today’s world. At today’s walk for awareness in support of NEDA, people from all walks of life crowded the streets of South Philadelphia, and broke the silence that has withheld the importance of recognizing eating disorders as a legitimate mental illnesses. Posters embellished the cloudless sky early this morning, some reading “Fully Recovered for Five Years,” and others emphasizing that a battle if very much still being fought every day. The incomprehensible statistic “30 million” seemed even larger than before this morning. The number of people that walked today was in the thousands. It did not even touch one million, let alone 30 times that. Thousands of families stood together, bound by hope, each with an unparalleled story of their own. To think that there is millions of more families enduring these all-consuming disorders is staggering. Though the streets of South Philadelphia were over-crowded with beaming individuals encouraged by change and determined to fight eating disorders, it is important to remember that there are countless other people in the Philadelphia area, and far beyond, who have been, are, or will be damaged by an eating disorder.
It is even more important to remember that among those millions others, there will be countless more stories of triumph and hope to share. Each story was incomparable to the last because each one was materialized by experiences unique to the speaker. One man shed light on his older sister, who’s battle with an eating disorder was catalyzed by an abusive relationship. Another young girl told a beautiful account of her longterm battle, touching upon the details of recovery that most never knew existed. Today, people were granted an opportunity beyond compare: the chance to share in the vulnerability of others and connect with people through their personal stories of heartache, fear, tenacity, and overcoming odds. Today, a new community was made in South Philadelphia. Not one built by familial blood, or bonds strengthened by longterm relationships. It was built purely by thousands of people, barely introduced to one another, who share in one common, ambitious vision: to see the world as one without eating disorders.
One of the speakers this morning, an acclaimed psychologist who has transformed the minds of countless people encumbered by eating disorders, shared something that will forever be stamped in my mind. She reminded everyone that eating disorders are addictive in nature and have the power to shrink you, cripple you. The all-powering eating disorder voice that overshadows the voice of so many taunts you into isolation and encourages you to withdraw from the world around. “But you showed up today,” the speaker said, “Today, you decided to drown out the voice in your head instead of allowing it to shrink you.” She validated the struggle of so many saying, “I see you, I see your struggle,” and acknowledged the most powerful movement of all: showing up for something that drives you, rather than allowing your fears to consume you.
This morning has been long anticipated since the day I left my hospital bed (which became much too familiar) and made the decision to harness fear as a catalyst for positive change. I am profoundly humbled by the award I received as the top individual fundraiser for this incredible event. My wish is for there to be enough hours in the day to thank each and every one of those who have supported me in my journey towards abundant health thoroughly, and embrace those who have not only made generous contributions for NEDA, but have sparked conversation about a disorder that has long been disguised as taboo. Together you have all started a movement that will save million of lives.