By: Emily Rosenberg, Project HEAL Legislative Volunteer
Many men and women suffer with their eating disorders in silence. I knew the value of talking about what my own eating disorder meant to me. That’s what led me to be an advocate for others and pursue legislation that would expand eating disorder education in Pennsylvania.
I choose to create an education bill because education, I believe, is the most important thing in preventing an eating disorder from an individual. Maybe my six years of suffering could have been shortened if more education was in place at my high school and made aware to those around me.
It took two years for people to be concerned about me. Many people have the stereotype of an eating disorder being somebody who is rail thin and that anybody who is normal weight is fine. This is not true. An individual can be any weight and be severely suffering. Had education about the symptoms of an eating disorder be given, perhaps I would have been in treatment before I became underweight.
I do believe the earlier somebody is recognized as suffering from an eating disorder, the easier the recovery process. I do not use the word ‘easier’ lightly, I personally know that recovery is a hard journey, but the longer somebody has suffered, the more the thoughts become ingrained in him or her. Advocating became important for me because I want to educate people, break stigmas and stereotypes, and most importantly, prove to myself, and to others, that there is more in life when you allow yourself to be free from your eating disorder.
My eating disorder began in my sophomore year of high school. I was a dancer and runner, so being thin to me was equated to success and achievement. There were much deeper issues that were building inside of me that was brought up in my time in treatment, as eating disorders are more than just a want to be thin. It was a slow regression until my senior year when my weight dropped significantly and was noticed by the school nurse during the annual height and weight screening.
I want people to know that there is nothing shameful about an eating disorder. It is a disease, one does not choose to have an eating disorder. I hope that statement is something everyone keeps in mind after reading this. An eating disorder is a disease, just like cancer or Alzheimer’s, yet resources and funding is not nearly the same as these illnesses. This education bill is a basic thing that states can provide.
I first began the legislation process by finding a representative who would be a good fit to sponsor the bill. Since I wanted to create an education bill, I sought out a representative who was assigned to an education committee. I contacted members on both the House and Senate side to see if they would be interested in introducing this bill, as a bill needs to be passed on both the House and Senate side before going into effect.
Once I had the initial sponsors for the bill, I reached out to NEDA’s STAR manager and over the course of many conference calls, we began to write the bill as a team.
We formulated a bill that was very similar to one that passed in Virginia in March 2013. It would require schools in Pennsylvania to send home a one-page letter to parents of students in grades five through twelve that provided information about eating disorders. Schools would also have the option of doing a school screening administered by a knowledgeable eating disorders professional.
After the bill was finalized, the sponsors on both sides introduced it to the entire House and Senate.
Two months later, we held a press conference, where I spoke about why the bill was important to me, along with the sponsors, my high school health teacher, and a parent who lost her daughter to an eating disorder. Together, we urged the Education Committee to hold hearings.
The press conference helped bring attention to the bill and for other legislators, and the public, to learn about the bill, as well as eating disorders in general. The press conference was then followed by a lobby day, which gave constituents a chance to speak with legislators and ask them to support our bill.
In the coming week, the Democratic House Policy Committee will hold a hearing for our bill. This hearing will consist of testimonies from eating disorder experts, family members, and individuals who have suffered. It will be a chance to help legislators understand why this piece of legislation needs to be implemented.
I have been working on this bill for eight months now and have enjoyed the process. Every small step that legislators have taken has felt like a victory. Every step we take is a step in breaking the silence of eating disorders. Being an active participant advocating for eating disorders has been more rewarding than I could have imagined, and the gratitude I have received from others overwhelming.
Girls and boys are faced every day with the pressures to be thin by society and their peers. It will take more time to change how society views beauty, but in the meantime, we can work to change the effect it has on children and adolescents by equipping the key people with the necessary knowledge and education. We cannot stay silent. Your voice and signature on this bill can make a difference. So please support this bill to prevent an eating disorder from taking the fun and joy out of another child’s life.
It is one thing to recover from an eating disorder; it is another thing to be able to share my story to help others reach recovery and to prevent an eating disorder from taking away the fun and joy of another child’s life.
About the author: Emily is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C. She wishes to pursue a career in the medical field helping children. Emily enjoys volunteering her time with various eating disorder and empowerment organizations, helping others live fulfilling lives. She loves exploring new places, running, and reading a good book while sipping on a Starbucks Frappuccino.