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Alumna addresses body image

| Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a five-part series exploring the events and discussions of Saint Mary’s Love Your Body Week, which aims to foster self-confidence and positive body images.

Love Your Body Week at Saint Mary’s kicked off Monday with cotton candy in the dining hall, followed by a discussion with Christina Grasso, an alumna of the Class of 2011, about her struggle with anorexia.

The Week, initiated four years ago by Saint Mary’s students, aims to promote self-esteem and to educate students about maintaining healthy lifestyles.

In her talk, Grasso said she started struggling with anorexia as a freshman in college, but it wasn’t until her junior year that her friends confronted her about the problem.

“The vast majority of those who struggle with eating disorders are normal weight or overweight, and I wish I would have known that then,” she said.

By her junior year at Saint Mary’s, Grasso had stopped eating altogether, she said.

Grasso said an eating disorder can be deadly, regardless of weight, and those who deprive themselves or abuse their bodies in any way need and deserve help.

“I returned home from graduation with a plan to move to New York in mid-July,” Grasso said. “Instead, during a routine visit to my doctor, it was decided that I would be admitted to a hospital across the country specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, where I would spend the next few months getting help. I was heartbroken, but I knew it needed to happen.”

Grasso said, at first, she was very resistant to treatment.

“I fought tooth-and-nail to keep anorexia close simply because it became something with which I could curl up and always feel safe, even if it was killing me,” she said.

Now, Grasso has been out of treatment for two-and-a-half years, and, despite occasional setbacks and lapses, she said she has continued to recover on an out-patient basis.

“Life began to get in the way of my eating disorder, rather than vice versa,” she said. “I began checking off boxes on my bucket list and seizing opportunities [of] which I had always dreamed. I began to really live life for the first time in years.”

Junior Sam Moorhead, Social Concerns Committee chair for the Student Government Association (SGA), helped to bring Grasso to campus for Love Your Body Week. Moorhead said Grasso is involved with a nonprofit organization, Project HEAL, dedicated to the issue of eating disorders.

Junior Mackenzie Woods said Project HEAL, which stands for Help to Eat, Accept and Live, was founded in 2008 by two New York teens who met while battling anorexia. Project HEAL raises money for people who are unable to afford treatment and promotes healthy body image among teens and young adults.

Moorhead said Grasso speaks regularly about her experiences with eating disorders and body image at middle schools, high schools and colleges nationwide on behalf of Project HEAL.

Grasso said she was never the type of person interested in public speaking, but she presents across the country in the hopes of showing others struggling with eating disorders that recovery is possible.

“I have always been a pretty private person, so I don’t know where all of this outspokenness and honesty comes from [in] this area in my life, but I do know that it helps immensely to have someone who endured and survived this horrendous illness, letting other sufferers know that it’s okay, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, there’s help, there’s hope and, most importantly, it is possible to become fully recovered,” she said. “I have seen it and I believe it.

“It takes, on average, five to seven years to recover from a full-blown eating disorder, and by the standard, I am almost halfway there.”

Moorhead said SGA invited Grasso to speak at Saint Mary’s because health issues relate to young women’s self-perception.

Love Your Body Week is a week that strives to emphasize the unique beauty of each individual on our campus and the importance of a healthy and positive self-imagr,” Moorhead said. “Eating disorders affect so many women, and we hope that [Grasso’s] talk can provide hope and encouragement to those who may be strugglin..”

Woods said she hopes to start a chapter of Project HEAL at Saint Mary’s sooe.

“I decided that this issue doesn’t get talked about enough hers,” Woods said. “I believe this will keep the conversation going and reduce stigmas right here on our own campus.“We plan on hosting fundraising events, and those will contribute to the project HEAL national scholarship fund.”

More information about Project HEAL is available at theprojectheal.org

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