Healing Is Possible: EU hosts panel on eating disorders

     With the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness and incredibly low research funds, eating disorders are severely misunderstood by many, even though 30 million people–10 percent of the population–struggle with some type of eating disorder. Speaking at Windows on the World to inform college students about these illnesses were three panelists: Joan Barnes, Brian Cuban and Kristina Saffran, who shared their personal experiences with and triumphs over eating disorders.

     Brian Cuban, author of “Shattered Image,” struggled with body dysmorphia and bulimia for 27 years, afraid to tell anyone about his illness because he felt like he was the only male struggling with these problems. Joan Barnes is an esteemed entrepreneur, the founder and former CEO of Gymboree and author of “Play it Forward: From Gymboree to the Yoga Mat to Beyond.” Officially diagnosed with an eating disorder in her mid-40s, Barnes began using laxatives at just 10 years old. She explained she felt “cool” in college, and afterwards, able to juggle relationships and work, in addition to managing her weight using dieting pills and laxatives. Similar to Barnes, Saffran also had her first anorexic episode at age 10; her symptoms, however, were physically apparent, so her parents noticed and intervened. She relapsed again at age 13 and was put through more intensive therapy, diagnosed with chronic anorexia. Now fully recovered, Saffran founded Project HEAL, an organization committed to raising awareness for eating disorders.

     “Contrary to the widely-circulated myth that recovery is impossible, appropriate treatment can make life without an eating disorder truly a reality,” Saffran’s website emphasizes. Throughout the panel, Saffran, Barnes and Cuban focused on the real possibility of a full recovery from an eating disorder.

     Loneliness and shame appeared to be the main reasons the speakers didn’t get help sooner. Cuban especially cited these as reasons he lived with his disorder for 27 years: his fear of being the only male suffering with these diseases kept him from even researching online more about bulimia, afraid to find out he was really the only guy struggling with these illnesses. Saffran urged friends of individuals struggling with eating disorders to speak up because people dealing with these problems need friends to support them. The panel emphasized the importance of support and community especially because “curing” these diseases involves more than maintaining a healthy weight. Individuals struggling with eating disorders also have to combat their negative thought processes as well. Barnes and Saffran described this process as being “inwardly vigilant”; a “relapse” is really just the final, outward manifestation of a negative mental cycle that started long before the eating disorder began. Because so much of the problem is mental, it is important for people struggling with these issues to have a supportive community to help them stop the cycle before it begins.

     Sources: JoanBarnesspeaks.com, theprojectheal.org

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