Health,  NEDA

Eating disorders: what I learned from my day with NEDA

When people mention eating disorders, and then find out I hold a title as a beauty queen, I start to cringe internally, I know I’m going to get asked “that question”.  I know with wearing this crown on my head, I also carry the burden of being associated with everything negative within the beauty industry.  During my history of competing in pageants, have I seen women engage in destructive behaviors, YES.  However, I do have to point out that I also saw similar behaviors while a college student and also just from various people I’ve encountered in my life..

Taking the information I knew, I boarded an Amtrak train and headed to Albany, NY with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to lobby with them in support of a bill that would require physicians and physician assistants in New York, who have no prior eating disorder education, to take a one-hour online course to help them recognize signs and symptoms of an eating disorder and appropriate referral techniques.  Luckily I sit next to Lynn Grefe, head of NEDA who welcomed me and described the need to spread awareness to the Latino community.  She also shared how part of this movement involves alerting advertisers to the negative effects their slogans have on the general public and of course to those suffering from eating disorders. An example would be Apple and their 1st ipod campaign which stated “you can never be to thin or too powerful“.

Throughout the day I am able to hear personal stories about how having an eating disorders has affected them and those closest to them. I was struck by a husband and wife team who dealt with her eating disorder and now work together to raise awareness. A mother who was told by one of her daughter’s physician to “purchase her daughter a piece of jewelry as bribery to get her to eat”.  Another women mentioned how many people complimented her upon her weight loss and how she wished her physicians at the time had just questioned her a bit as she may have opened up and perhaps saved herself from suffering in silence.

How does this relate to Latina women and women of color? It is obviously something not talked abut enough.  There are pressures some women may feel as a women of color to try and fit in this mainstream image of what a successful or “beautiful” woman is supposed to look like. I even read that in Argentina, women who suffer from eating disorder is almost three times greater than that of the United States.  A great quote I was told by another volunteer who was glad that I would be sharing what I learned to the Latino community is, “it’s not just a rich white girl’s disease”.

While there was so much more that I learned that day, the main points I wanted to summarize include:

  •  In the US per the National Mental Health’s (NIMH) guide and current census numbers, a total of 24 million people suffer from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder
  • The 2006 South Carolina Department of Mental Health lists anorexia as the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents
  • For females between 15 to 24 years of age who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL other causes of death (Sullivan, 1995)
  • While women are more commonly affected by eating disorders, more than a million men and boys battle the illness every day.
  • Eating disorder is a mental health issue, yet only one-third of people with anorexia in the community receive mental health care (Hoek, H.W., & van Hoeken, D., 2003).
  • Anorexia is the3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents (South Carolina department of Health, 2006).

A video with a few words from me during the press conference with NEDA and the wonderful Senator Shirley L. Huntley (D)-Jamaica, Ranking Member of the Senate Mental Health and Development Disabilities Committee and Assemblyman Peter Rivera, Speaker Pro Tempore and Former Chair of Assembly Mental Health Committee both original sponsors of this bill

I ask you to find your legislative representative, write to them in support of passing this bill. You can find your New York Assembly representative here:  and your Senate representative here:

An article in which Lynn Grefe, discusses ad campaigns and their negative messages: 

A link to NEDA’s facebook page where you can get more information on the organization and how you can help

The great group of volunteers, advocates and NEDA staff.
With Senator Shirley L. Huntley

Please note that this is my personal opinion, and not necessarily of NEDA. Also I would love to hear your comments on how eating disorders affects women in your community, those of different cultural backgrounds, from transgender women. 

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