Walk benefits eating disorder

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Participants in the Austin National Eating Disorder Association Walk begin walking at Mueller Lake Park on Saturday Morning. The event raised more than $21,000 for the National Eating Disorder Association.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

With about 27 million people in the U.S. with some form of an eating disorder, the second annual Austin National Eating Disorder Association Walk led about 275 people through Mueller Lake Park to bring awareness to the issue and educate people about eating disorders.

The Saturday event, which raised more than $21,000 for the National Eating Disorder Association, also featured four renowned speakers, including nationally known author and musician Jenni Schaefer and UT political communication and education senior Lander Baiamonte.

An estimated 11 million people in the U.S. have anorexia or bulimia nervosa, and another 15 million have binge eating disorders, said Justin Lupér, Austin National Eating Disorder Association Walk spokesman. He said about 20 percent of people with eating disorders who don’t get treatment die from their condition. Luper said misconceptions and stigmas about eating disorders often make it difficult for people to speak out about their conditions or seek treatment.

“A lot of people don’t think it’s a real disease when it is, or people think it’s a disease of privilege, or people think that it’s not as serious as it really is,” Luper said. “We want to bring it to the forefront and let people know it’s okay to talk about.”

Baiamonte said she wished more people at UT were aware of eating disorders.

“I would like to see more eating disorder awareness at UT especially because we’re a top school, so I think a lot of people feel that pressure to be successful, and there is a lot of pressure to be the best,” Baiamonte said.

Schaefer said she is proof, as someone who had such severe bulimia and anorexia that she had osteoporosis at 22 years old, that it is possible to fully recover from an eating disorder.

“It is not something that you have to struggle with for the rest of your life,” Schaefer said. “You can be fully recovered, and don’t let anyone tell you different from that.”

Schaefer said personality characteristics such as anxiety, perfectionism and compulsive behavior are better indicators of who may have an eating disorder than appearance alone.
“Men and women both have eating disorders, all cultures,” she said. “There’s no way you can tell by looking at someone whether or not they struggle.”

Schaefer said family and friends don’t need to understand what it’s like to have an eating disorder, but they must realize that their support is crucial to recovery.

“What we just need from friends and family is love and an acceptance that you’re not going to understand, but that that’s okay,” she said.

Melissa Harjehausen, an English senior from Texas State University, said the speakers were inspiring to her as someone who once struggled with anorexia and bulimia.

“Seeing other people choose to take responsibility for their lives and choose to get better, rather than live with it for the rest of their life — it’s just inspiring,” Harjehausen said.

Printed on Monday, November 21, 2011 as: Walk raises funds, awareness for eating disorders