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SMC senior discusses anorexia

Alicia Smith | Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Eating disorders can take on a life of their own, Saint Mary’s senior Christina Grasso said of her experiences battling anorexia.

Grasso spoke during “Biting Back,” a lecture and panel discussion about eating disorders held Monday in Carroll Auditorium in Madeleva Hall. The event was part of the College’s Love Your Body Week.

During the lecture, Grasso described her battle with anorexia.

“You will stand in front of the mirror for hours, not out of vanity, but of disgust,” she said.

Grasso said she began battling with body image when she was 7 years old. With her three main interests of dance, gymnastics and fashion, Grasso said she felt pressure to have the right type of body to pursue those interests. At seven, Grasso went on her first diet.

At 13, she explained how she began struggling with anorexia. She continued to struggle throughout high school and reached the peak of her disease in college.

“I based my entire worth on my appearance,” she said.

Grasso said she had a skewed perception of herself, which caused her to continue to desire to lose more weight.

“I had no accurate concept of what my body actually looked like,” she said. “Every mirror had a funhouse effect.”

She said she desired food, but a voice inside her head hindered her. She described her experience studying abroad in Italy, and how she refrained from eating any pasta, pastries or pizza during her time there.

“I wanted to eat. I wanted to live, but I felt powerless over my illness,” she said.

Struggling not only with failing to eat, Grasso said she also over-exerted herself with exhausting exercise. In addition, she used laxatives to continue to lose weight.

Grasso said the eating disorder didn’t just affect her body, but her mind and spirit as well.

“Your fear of eating is literally eating you,” she said.

With her heart rate falling to a mere 35 beats per minute during her illness, she said she knew the disease was slowly killing her.

She explained that though she had many wake-up calls, she wasn’t ready to commit for treatment.

“I never chose anorexia, and I never chose to get well,” she said.

Finally, Grasso’s family became extremely concerned and forced her into rehabilitation. After a summer of treatment and support from her parents, Grasso began to eat again.

“With their unconditional love paired with round-the-clock-care, I slowly began eating again,” she said.

After spending the summer in rehabilitation, Grasso returned to the College and relapsed. She returned to treatment and has been better since. Grasso credits her recovery to her family, friends and doctors.

Grasso still struggles with her eating disorder and said the disease may affect her for the rest of her life.

“I may never recover completely, and I certainly will never forget,” she said.

Grasso said eating disorders are about more than just body image.

“I believe it is more important to emphasize that there is so much more to be lost with an eating disorder than just weight,” she said.

At the end of Grasso’s talk, two experts in the field of eating disorders spoke briefly. Valerie Staples, coordinator of eating disorder service at Notre Dame, and Gwen DeHorn, of Sonego and Associates in Mishawaka, discussed eating disorders and their effects on individuals.