More than a thousand people gathered in Lincoln Park Sunday to help raise over $47,000 for eating disorder awareness at the annual National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Walk.
NEDA is a nonprofit with a mission to support those impacted by eating disorders through health screenings, support groups, legislative advocacy and more. An eating disorder is an illness in which individuals experience significant disturbances in their eating-related behaviors, emotions and thoughts, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
More than 30 million Americans struggle with an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to advocacy group Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC). In a study conducted by Pace University, the rate of eating disorders among college students increased 17 percent for males and nine percent for females from 1995 to 2008.
Stacey Kupsche, a clinical supervisor at a medical company, said she drove an hour from Johnsburg, Illinois to participate in the walk. She said her 24-year-old daughter has been struggling with an eating disorder for over four years and has been in and out of treatment since high school.
Kupsche said her daughter is currently in an in-patient treatment facility in Colorado, and it has been taking a toll on her.
“It’s devastating,” Kupsche said. “You wake up every day looking for that text message that she’s alive. The last time she went into treatment she would call us every morning to tell us she’s alive.”
Kupsche said her daughter almost died twice due to medical complications associated with her anorexia nervosa and now has osteoporosis at the age of 24. Individuals with anorexia nervosa experience nutritional and hormonal complications that reduce bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis, according to the National Institute of Health.
Kupsche said she’s determined to keep supporting her daughter.
“We’ve been in therapy through this whole journey, and we will continue to be with her,” Kupsche said. “Everybody’s worthy, regardless of size, shape and gender. Everybody’s beautiful.”
Iskra Lawrence, a 28-year-old British model and body-image activist, spoke at the event. She works for American Eagle’s lingerie line, Aerie, which promotes body-positivity through a campaign that solely uses unretouched photos, according to their website. Lawrence also serves as a brand ambassador for NEDA. Brand ambassadors advocate for body acceptance and share their personal experiences, according to NEDA’s website.
Lawrence has a personal connection to NEDA’s mission. She struggled with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia, a condition characterized by a persistent focus on imagined or minor defects in one’s appearance, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
“It’s so important to support NEDA and everyone here at this walk,” she said. “I went through my own eating disorder and body dysmorphia, and there seems to be no better way to honor that struggle than to positively advocate for change — more funding and support.”
Lawrence has an online following and told Women’s Wear Daily that she doesn’t retouch any of her photos. It took her many years to heal from her eating disorder and develop the confidence she currently has, according to an Instagram post.
“I didn’t understand what I was going through and was very much in the dark for a long time,” she said. “I didn’t have resources, anyone to talk to or anywhere to seek help.”
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders polled 109 therapists and found 20 percent believe insurance companies are indirectly responsible for the death of at least one of their patients, and more than 96 percent believe their patients’ lives are endangered because the companies often don’t pay for treatment.
Marissa Pellicane, a sophomore psychology student at Loyola, attended the walk and said she wants insurance policy to change.
“The money that’s raised at this walk is being sent to individual families, since many health plans don’t cover mental illnesses, especially eating disorders, because there’s no definitive treatment plan, and it takes years to recover,” Pellicane said.
The 19-year-old serves as the philanthropy chair of Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness (BIEDA) club on campus. Pellicane said the club holds monthly gatherings to promote body positivity, self-love and positive self-image.
The event was sponsored by six eating disorder treatment centers around the country, including Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center in Lemont, Illinois. RXBAR, a protein bar company headquartered in Chicago, also sponsored the event.
Participants raised money by setting up personal fundraising accounts and asking family and friends for donations. The money raised goes towards programs, advocacy efforts and research initiatives, according to NEDA’s website.
Those looking to seek help for an eating disorder can contact the Wellness Center, which offers group counseling and individual therapy. Additional resources, including a confidential hotline, can be found through NEDA.
Blue Cross Blue Shield, an insurance provider, didn’t respond to The Phoenix’s request for comment at the time of publication.