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Alumna addresses anorexia

Kaitlyn Rabach | Monday, February 20, 2012

As part of Love Your Body Week at Saint Mary’s, Christina Grasso, a 2011 College alumna, shared the story of her personal battle with anorexia, titled “Down the Rabbit Hole,” with the Saint Mary’s community Monday.

Grasso, a current intern in the New York City fashion industry, likened her experience with anorexia to the title character’s tumultuous journey in Alice in Wonderland.

“Like Alice, I felt trapped,” said Grasso, who has fought anorexia for nearly a decade. “I never imagined embarking on a journey that could nearly kill me, but if there is anything I have learned throughout all of this, it is that if it happened to me, it can happen to anyone.”

Grasso grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania with dreams of working in the fashion industry. As a young girl, she focused on dance, gymnastics and fashion, all of which place value on image perfection and thinness.

“I have always been very driven,” Grasso said. “I struggled for perfection in all of my endeavors. I tried to numb the pain of never feeling good enough.”

Her illness began at age 13, but Grasso was not officially diagnosed with anorexia until she was a 19-year-old student at Saint Mary’s. She said she remembers dieting for the first time at age seven, and by eighth grade, she began to eat even less.

“I made accomplishment after accomplishment,” Grasso said. “But nothing felt as good as losing another pound. I was running on self-hatred.”

Grasso said her illness worsened as she grew older. Her loved ones began to express their concerns for her health, but she herself could not grasp the seriousness of her own problem.

“I was blindly unaware of the fact that the only one I was hurting was myself,” Grasso said.

In addition to dramatic changes in eating habits, Grasso’s anorexia also included excessive workouts, experimentation with laxatives and dietetics and frequent purging.

Grasso explained thinness is just one side effect of anorexia, as she also experienced hair loss, bruising, low body temperature, low blood pressure, low heart rate and susceptibility to multiple organ failure.

“I could have died at any given moment,” Grasso said. “I never wanted or intended to die, but every night I went to bed not knowing if I would wake up.”

Grasso continued to spiral into her own “rabbit hole” until one life-threatening incident opened her eyes to the seriousness of her illness.

“Because my body had such a lack of nutrients, I fainted quite often,” Grasso said. “One time while driving outside of Chicago, I blacked out at the wheel. It was around that time, my junior year in college, that I acknowledged I have a problem.”

With the support of her family and friends, Grasso engaged in several different types of treatment, but she continued to relapse into the disease. After several unsuccessful treatments, Grasso’s physician recommended inpatient treatment at a center for eating disorders.

“This is when I realized there were no further treatments for me to try,” Grasso said. “I was at the end of the line.”

Grasso was released from the treatment center in mid-August and now resides in New York City, where she works in a public relations firm within the fashion industry. She is currently in recovery, but she said each day is a fight for survival.

Grasso said one of her biggest challenges has been working in an industry where perfection and thinness are seen as the norm.

“I must continue to always be conscious of my thoughts,” Grasso said. “This is a difficult industry for me to work in, but I do it not only for the little girl that always dreamed of being here, but also for the person that this illness has shaped today.”

Laura Glaub, Love Your Body Week co-chair, expressed her gratitude for Grasso and said she is an inspiration to herself and others.

“I was planning on doing Love Your Body Week activities for one day, but Christina inspired me to make it a week-long event,” Glaub said. “She is such an inspiration and her presentation is a great kick off for the rest of the week’s events. She incorporates family, friends and the media, all topics that will be covered this upcoming week.”

Grasso said events like Love Your Body Week have the power to make changes in society’s perception of eating disorders and body image.

“I felt like in my four years here eating disorders were such a taboo topic. We really need to get the dialogue going and make sure that people know it is not a shameful thing to have an eating disorder,” Grasso said. “This idea of it being kept hush-hush just perpetuates how victims thrive off of secrecy. Events like this show it is okay to talk about it.”