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Cavadini discusses eating disorders

| Friday, February 27, 2015

Wednesday night in Ryan Hall, Dr. Katie Cavadini, assistant chair to the department of theology at Notre Dame, drew on her personal experiences with anorexia and talked with students about eating disorders and the role faith can play in healing victims in an event titled “Created in God’s Image: Faith and Friendship’s Role in an Eating Disorder.”

“The title of this evening’s event is a summary of Genesis 1:26 — an ancient verse where we encounter an enduring statement about humankind,” Cavadini said. “We are God’s creation. We are made in his likeness. So let’s begin while considering this idea.”

Cavadini said her experience with eating disorders began during her career as a competitive swimmer early in her teen years.

”When I was just 13, or probably 12, I [began] to develop, slowly, little by little, an eating disorder,” she said. “Each day, I would make a small sacrifice of a little food. But those sacrifices slowly grew into rather serious foregoings. Why? Well, all for something Notre Dame is not very unfamiliar with — the desire for athletic glory.

“I was an excellent young swimmer, and I absolutely loved that about myself. And the fact that my coach was convinced that I was a young Olympian in the making helped convince me that [swimming] was the center of my everything. This, of course would require sacrifices.”

Dr. Cavadini said she was content with her harmful lifestyle and doing whatever it took to fulfill her potential as a swimmer. She said she felt her success was completely determined by the scale, even if she wasn’t aware of the reality of what was happening to her.

“I remember my mother imploring me one day, ‘Katie, don’t disappear.’” Cavadini said. “I remember how uncomfortable it was to sleep […] and I wondered why was my mattress felt like it was filled with rocks? I finally realized the only rocks in my bed were my own bones.”

Before letting students discuss their own experiences, questions and thoughts on eating disorders, Cavadini finished by saying she called on religious teachings and values to help her recover after receiving crucial support from her parents.

“My parents tried many, many, many, times. How do you teach something one cannot actually see? How do you ask someone to admit their sense of reality is not actually real or true?” Cavadini said. “Little by little, I’d say. You’d correct your vision little by little. Slowly opening up a vision founded upon gratitude.

“Here, we can turn to, I think, one of the greatest little things of our time … [the teachings of St.] Therese de Lisieux — the sanctification of each day, each act, and doing every tedious little thing in our daily life for God. This way is to train oneself to remain always aware of the one true reality of appreciating creation. … In retrospect, this was the way my parents worked on me. Little by little.”

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