Groups at Penn are coming together for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week to shed light on eating disorders and combat stigmas surrounding them.
On Feb. 25, student groups Project LETS and Project HEAL kicked off the week with a "LETS X HEAL" panel event, in which several victims were invited to share their stories and stimulate discussion.
Eating disorders have become overwhelming prevalent in the nation. According to the Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, at least 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder, and at least one person dies every 62 minutes from such a disorder. Eating disorders lead to a higher mortality rate than schizophrenia, depression, and every other major mental health disorder.
Project LETS and Project HEAL are two organizations that have been trying to combat some of these issues in recent years. Project HEAL is an American non-profit dedicated to supporting and advocating for people suffering from eating disorders, while Project LETS works to destigmatize mental health at Penn through peer-led support groups.
At the event, three volunteer speakers described their experiences with eating disorders and how it affected their health and interpersonal relationships.
“Hearing the perspective of a student who’s gone through [an eating disorder] makes it so much more real and personal, and then you can recognize those stories in your own friends. It can be very powerful,” co-coordinator of Project LETS and Engineering sophomore Lauren Drake said.
“When I came to Penn, there were no organizations that did eating disorder awareness or anything like that, any type of body positivity, and I thought that was crazy,” said College sophomore Mariya Bershad, co-founder of the Project HEAL chapter at Penn.
Bershad said Project HEAL likes having discussion-based events that are applicable to Penn and include a range of eating disorder behaviors, including restriction, binging, and purging.
Project HEAL planned several initiatives for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, including a laptop sticker fundraiser and the distribution of informational brochures given out on Locust Walk.
"There are a lot of resources that are specific to eating disorders through CAPS that I didn’t know about and a lot of people probably don’t know about about unless they’re really seeking it out,” Bershad said about the brochures. “This is a big awareness campaign that we’ve been trying to put forward since the beginning.”
Bershad said Project HEAL is partnering with the documentary, Straight/Curved, to host a special screening in collaboration with Harnwell College House.
Bershad said that the events were put in place to show people struggling with an eating disorder that they are not alone at Penn.
College freshman Steff Saxey, who attended the event, said the panel helped counteract "Penn face" and went "outside of this persona that most of us put on."
“I guess it helped me feel not as alone in some of those things, and like there’s a community out there experiencing the same thing," Saxey said.
Another attendee, College sophomore Olivia Greene, agreed. “It seems like everyone has every aspect of their life together, which can be really hard to compare yourself to, so I think events like these are a good way to start making the conversation more open.”
Regarding how to counteract the eating disorder epidemic, College sophomore Hannah Rash, a panel speaker at LETS X HEAL, told The Daily Pennsylvanian, “Be there for your friends. If you can’t be there physically, text them. Just be a normal friend basically."
"If we can love ourselves more, then it’ll help the people around us love themselves more.”
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