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ND battles eating disorders

Claire Heininger | Thursday, October 2, 2003

For a sickness as personal and painful as an eating disorder, often the only people who can offer real help are those who have been there before. Jessica Weiner has been there before – and before and before as she slipped in and out of her anorexia and bulimia – and proved on Wednesday that she was ready to help.

Weiner, the author of “A Very Hungry Girl: How I Filled Up on Life…and How You Can, Too!,” gave a presentation about her own struggles with self-loathing and self-starvation, offering insight, strategies and a triumphant outlook to sufferers of eating disorders.

Coining the label “actionist,” she described herself as someone who “looks at what we tangibly have in front of us today – not five pounds from now, not five years from now – I aim to take back the power that each individual day can hold.”

Roughly 200 students packed the LaFortune Ballroom to attend Weiner’s presentation, which was titled “Do I Look Fat in This?” Beginning with the first diet that her mom imposed on her at the age of 11, Weiner chronicled her fight against a negative body image.

“For the first time, I saw my body as something I had to fix, to starve, to change,” Weiner said. “It became a cycle of pain, of shame, of blame, of punishment and of restriction.”

Despite years of dieting, Weiner said that she still didn’t believe she had a problem because she didn’t match the size zeroes around her.

“I was an in-between girl,” she said. “I was never 5’10” and 89 pounds. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t sick.”

In addition to discrediting the hollow-cheeked, model-thin stereotype of an eating disorder victim, she also refuted the common misconception that eating disorders only affect “snobby rich white girls who want to be skinny and pretty.” Instead, she said we should replace that image with “someone from any race, gender or socioeconomic background – just somebody in pain who doesn’t know how to express it,” she said.

The low point of her own pain hit during her freshman year at Penn State University, when Weiner added drug and alcohol abuse to a harsh cycle of anorexia, diuretic bulimia and compulsive eating.

“I woke up every morning thinking, ‘what am I going to do to destroy myself today?'” Weiner said. “I was suicidal. I had zero self worth.”

Her first major breakthrough, she said, came when she decided to throw up for the first time.

“I remember seeing a sign hanging in the bathroom that said, ‘Eating Disorders Can Kill,'” she said. “And underneath it a woman had written, ‘Screw you I’m already dead.'”

Weiner said that it was at that moment she realized that eating disorders needed to be talked about. After joining a support group and hearing fellow women with eating disorders tell their painful stories of family trauma, abuse, poverty, divorce, self-mutilation and other “tortured secrets,” she realized the release and empowerment that came from discussion and mutual support. She read a passage of her book called ‘Group Insanity” to demonstrate the excruciating but constructive events of these sessions.

Now a healthy weight, Weiner said that an eating disorder is not something that can be overcome overnight. “I’m a human being in the recovery process, not a product. I’m definitely still vulnerable, but I’m not in secret anymore.”

She encouraged listeners to stop wasting time and energy on the “language of fat” and to replace it with “the real stuff. Get rid of the judgment, banter and criticism and tell the truth.”

Weiner has been working as an activist since her graduation from Penn State eight years ago.

In addition to her nationally known programs on eating disorders, she has also counseled parents, teachers and children about alcohol and drug abuse as well as school violence and hate crimes. She has her own website, at www.jessicaweiner.com, and has been labeled the “next Oprah,” as a nationally syndicated talk show with a major television network is also in the works.

“Do I Look Fat in This?” was sponsored by the University Health Center, UBWell2, the Bookstore and A Life Uncommon.