Why I Walk: Katherine Dyer

The National Eating Disorder Association’s annual NEDA Walk is coming to Charleston on October 22.  Individuals walk to raise awarenes. Either they themselves or someone they know struggled with an eating disorder. It is also an opportunity to end the stigma surrounding eating disorders and their treatment. I had the opportunity to talk to Katherine Dyer, a senior Biology major from Atlanta, Georgia, who is walking on Saturday.  She shared with me why this is important to her and, most importantly, why she walks.  Here’s what she said:

Marissa: You’re a senior, what are you wanting to accomplish after you graduate?

Katherine: After I graduate in December, I’m planning to get my masters in either Neuropsychopharmacology (a fancy word for the study of the brain and how drugs affect behavior) or Biomedical Science.  I’m incredibly interested in drug development, particularly those targeting the brain and behavior.  Career-wise, I’d love to work for a national lab to improve the safety and efficacy of medications available for various mental illnesses or disorders.

M: What inspires you? What is your motivation for life?

K: Wow, that’s a tough one! I’m inspired by people every day! My family in particular serves as a massive inspiration for me to do the best I can with what I have been given.  My fiancé inspires me to challenge myself and follow my passions.  I’m very thankful for my support system and what they do for me every day.  They ultimately motivate me to help others and make any difference in people’s lives that I can. I hope to do this through the two ways I best know how: science and mental health advocacy.

Katherine (left) with her fiance Logan.

Photo courtesy of Katherine Dyer.

M: Why do you think it’s important to be body positive and encourage self love?

K: Honestly, I think that self love is the most important component of a person’s identity and psyche.  My mom used to tell me when I was struggling with self-acceptance that taking care of yourself is like putting an oxygen mask on in an airplane. In every before-flight safety demonstration they tell you to put your mask on before helping others.  The idea that sometimes you must put yourself first in order to accept and love who you are seemed selfish to me at first, and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.  It took me a while to understand that if you cannot love or help yourself, you cannot truly love or help those around you in the way you want to.

M: Now the important question. Why do you walk?

K: I’m going to dive right in and get personal.  I’ve struggled with disordered eating in some shape or form since about 5th grade. The first reason I walk is to accept and embrace that part of myself and my past. In the darkest parts of my past when I was very much controlled by my disordered behavior, there were people who reached out to me and told me that I wasn’t alone, that they’d gone through something similar or that they knew someone who had.  Due to the isolating nature of mental illnesses, including eating disorders, these words meant more to me than I could ever describe.  Knowing I wasn’t alone in my struggle, that others had fought and overcame theirs, and that there was hope for me to live healthily and normally again changed my life.  The second reason I walk is to do for people still struggling what those people did for me.  To know you are supported and cherished can make the biggest of differences to someone who is struggling to see those things in his/herself.  The third reason I walk is to raise awareness and correct many people’s assumptions of eating disorders, like that they’re a “teenage girl issue” when in fact over 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States are estimated to suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life.  I hope to be a voice for those who are afraid to ask for help, and those who are ashamed of their struggles.

M: Why is supporting the NEDA important to you and why should others?

K: Simply put, not enough funding is spent on eating disorder research for the number of Americans who suffer every year.  Eating disorders not only have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, but the number of cases in the United States and abroad continues to climb every year. It is, however, estimated that only 1 in 10 people suffering from an eating disorder will receive treatment. The statistics are frightening, but they can be improved on or even reversed with a greater focus on eating disorder treatments and patient care. By supporting NEDA, we are supporting the recovery of millions of Americans struggling every day to live with their disease.

Katherine (second from left) pictured with her family at an Atlanta Braves vs. Detroit Tigers baseball game earlier this year.

Photo courtesy of Katherine Dyer.

M: If you could say anything to girls and young women today, what would it be?

K: Take two minutes every morning when you are brushing your teeth to think about what you love about yourself.  It could be that your bed head looks oddly chic, that you like your new toenail polish you picked out, or that you are proud of yourself for being a good listener and friend!  Allowing yourself to see the good in the small things that make you who you are can change more than you can imagine. If you find that you are ever struggling to love yourself or feel that you may be suffering from an eating disorder (or other mental illness), please ask for help.  Letting someone know that you are not okay and that you need their help is one of the most brave things you can do.  Plus, you deserve it. You deserve to genuinely love yourself, and you deserve the chance to pursue your dreams.

Thank you Katherine, for allowing us to interview you and for walking to support such an amazing cause! HCXO

If you or anyone you know would like to sign up for the NEDA walk or donate, please visit the NEDA Walk Charleston’s page.