Eating disorders have a prominent presence in college-aged students. Many of those who suffer keep it to themselves, starving their need for help. Second-year Rowan College student Marissa Velez is all too familiar with the struggle to stay thin. After being diagnosed in January 2014 with anorexia nervosa, Velez was brave enough to tell her story.
“That’s the thing about having an eating disorder. It convinces you that what you’re doing isn’t even a real problem. The disordered lifestyle as a whole was an addiction,” Velez said.
Cabrini held an eating disorder screening in Founders Hall lobby during national eating disorder awareness week. Students were prompted with a questionnaire to fill out as well as given informational packets to promote awareness. Mostly females participated in the screening.
Velez dealt with her eating disorder for nine years prior to her diagnosis and treatment. After being rushed to the hospital with extreme malnourishment and a weight of 86 pounds, Velez was court mandated to undergo eating disorder treatment. “They told me I needed help, but they are not the reason I got help. I did not choose treatment and I did not choose recovery. Recovery chose me, I like to think,” Velez said.
According to Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders or ANAD over one half of teenage girls use unhealthy weight control techniques. Velez described her typical day when her eating disorder was at its worst.
“I would wake up in the morning [and] skip breakfast. I would drive myself to school, bring a huge water bottle to fill me up, and get a large iced coffee so the caffeine could keep me on my feet.” Velez said. “I would go through school, obsessing over my body all day. I would obsess over trying to make sure I wasn’t giving off any signs as to how badly I was dying on the inside. I would obsess over anyone else skinnier than me and my mind would run constantly over ways to lose weight,” she added.
Velez would purposely over-schedule her day so she wouldn’t have to eat meals at home. With her self-hate growing hourly, she would stand in front of the mirror for over five minutes at a time, squeezing her wrists and pinching her thighs trying to find ways to stay thin.
“I’d be lucky if I slept two hours. The next day, I’d do it all over again. I wasn’t even a person. I was living by schedule-and mental-made demands. I hated everything about my life,” Velez said.
Many recovery centers have been established for those who have eating disorders. More than 50 percent of those who have had an eating disorder will develop an eating disorder patterns even in their rehabilitation, according to ANAD. Renfrew Center of Philadelphia is where Velez got residential treatment for over a month. Three months after, she went to Renfrew Center of Mt. Laurel for day treatment.
“Truthfully, I may never recover. I may only ever be ‘recovering’. The problem with recovery is that you don’t just chose it once and it’s over. You have to chose recovery every minute of everyday,” Velez said. “I am not healed, I am healing,” she added.
Velez stressed that eating disorders are a mental illness and it is not Barbie or the media’s fault. She believes it is not any diet gone wrong. Exposing eating disorders for what they are and not fabricating them as a dieting method is crucial for future education. She hopes her story will bring inspiration to those going through what she continues to deal with. Her strength and ambition to promote awareness is stronger than any disorder she may be suffering from.
“If I could tell every person struggling with an eating disorder one thing, it would be if you can survive the abuse, you can survive the recovery. You were not born to starve, binge, purge, repeat. You truly do not deserve it,” Velez said. “I may be struggling now, but I have seen brighter days where my eyes aren’t black and my hair is thick and my skin glows, and on one of those days, I felt more alive than I had ever felt in my entire life. Hold on for that. Please. The eating disorder is lying,” Velez said.