3rd Annual Gainesville NEDA Walk Provides Support & Education

For some people, fear is looking over the edge of a tall building or finding a spider crawling on them. For Stephanie Anderson, it was picking up a fork.

It all started back in her freshman year of high school, she said. What began as a 14-year-old’s desire to simply tone up her already-healthy body quickly spiraled into a life-threatening eating disorder.

“I had heard of anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders before, but I hadn’t really given them much thought,” Anderson said. “I thought they were all weird.”

Eventually, she was medically discharged from school and began visiting doctors and therapists regularly. However, her disorder continued to get worse.

By the time she was 16 years old, Anderson was at risk of losing her life.

“My heart was on the verge of giving out,” she said. “I needed help and I needed it fast.”

That was seven years ago.

Today, Anderson is a happier and healthier 22-year-old UF junior. With a full year of recovery under her belt, she is now a mentor to those going through the same struggle.

“My battle with anorexia was long, hard and not pretty,” she said  to a crowd of almost 200 people Sunday. “My recovery has been turbulent, incredible, tearful, scary, but most of all, worth it.”

Anderson spoke of her battle with her disorder in detail at the third annual Gainesville NEDA Walk this past weekend as a part of the event’s opening ceremony. The noncompetitive 3K aimed to raise awareness of eating disorders and provide support and a sense of community to patients.

Taylor Widom, co-coordinator of the event, said she considered the walk important in a college town where so many young people feel the pressure to look good.

“We feel like [Gainesville] is the place where people really need the active support, not just under wraps or online,” she said.

Up to 24 million people in the United States currently suffer from some sort of eating disorder, with 86 percent reporting the onset by age 20, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

In addition to Anderson’s speech, two UF nutrition students spoke to the audience about intuitive eating, a belief that goes against the traditional teachings of modern nutrition that is commonly used to help people with disordered eating. There were also booths with face painting, body- positive activities and lots of educational material from local dietitians, recovered patients and UF Health Psychiatry, a sponsor of the walk.

“My daughter has an eating disorder,” said Keith Dreier, Tampa resident and walk participant. “It’s been kind of new, but I’m committed to learning as much as I can about it, you know? It’s a step by step process.”

Anderson told audience members that recovery, while difficult, is not impossible.

“There is hope, and there is life after an eating disorder,” she said.

More information on eating disorders as well as patient, friends and family resources are all available on NEDA’s website.