Parents ‘give voice’ to bulimia

By Rachael Renz
November 12, 2009

Discouraged by society and her peers in college, Andrea Smeltzer developed an eating disorder. Although she told her family about her problem, she quietly suffered by writing in her journal and excessively exercising.

Ten years ago, Andrea Smeltzer died when she was 19 years old. She was an extremely talented individual who spoke Spanish fluently, was skilled in German and had plans to pursue Japanese.

She also loved to sing opera, write poetry and make her own jewelry. At the time of her death, she was a student, majoring in business and politics at Pitzer College in Claremont, Ca., not far from her home.

Andrea suffered with bulimia nervosa. She thought of herself as overweight and often compared herself to culture’s idea of “normalcy.”

The Body Image Coalition believes that our society shouldn’t condemn people for being overweight, but instead praise them for their size. Andrea Sussel, founder of Cabrini’s Body Image Coalition, asked the Smeltzers to speak at the Widener Lecture Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Andrea’s parents, Tom and Doris, revealed their daughter’s world by sharing Andrea’s thoughts through her poetry and journal entries.

According to the Mayo Clinic bulimia is a type of eating disorder in which a person becomes preoccupied with their weight and body shape, often judging themselves severely and harshly for perceived flaws.

With bulimia, someone engages in episodes of bingeing and purging, where they eat a large amount of food and then try to rid themselves of the extra calories by such unhealthy ways as self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise.

There are several different warning signs and symptoms to detect the disorder. Someone who is suffering from an eating disorder may be obsessively dieting and exercising, have preoccupation with food, develop constipation and may always be cold.

“She had insights beyond her years. She wasn’t perfect but she lived life with passion,” Doris Smeltzer said. “She loved to write poetry and write in her journals. She said it was her ‘free therapy.'”

During the presentation, Tom Smeltzer read excerpts from Andrea’s diary. “I am tired and my head pounds with my heartbeat. My body hurts me. A mute reminder of the times I hurt it.”

When Andrea purged for the first time she told her family about the incident and immediately started counseling. From that point on she began her 13-month fight with bulimia. The battle was abruptly ended on June 16, 1999 when she passed away in her sleep due to an electrolyte imbalance that stopped her heart from beating.

The Smeltzers are adamant believers in a “Fat-Talk” free world. “Fat-Talk” was developed by Trinity University’s Tri Delta sorority. Their message that has recently become a nationwide belief is “to put a stop to the endless pursuit of the thin ideal.”

The “Fat-Talk” Web site shows appalling statistics and facts like, one out of eight adolescent girls reported starving themselves to lose weight and 70 million people worldwide struggle with eating disorders.

“Look carefully, judge kindly, read under and between lines. The Journey is never so clear as the Destination,” Andrea wrote in her journal.

Rachael Renz

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