During the second week of Block 6, it will be National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. As a part of her Senior Capstone Project, Vanessa Voller has organized a three-day event series to spread awareness about eating disorders and disordered eating to the Colorado College community.
Voller is highly involved in the CC community. A sociology major, she is also the Glass House Residential Advisor, FYE mentor, co-manager of Sacred Grounds, and ORC trip leader. However, during Voller’s first three years at CC, the eating disorder she was diagnosed with at 11, anorexia nervosa, continued to haunt her.
“When I was 11 years old, my therapist held my hand and told me, ‘Vanessa, if you don’t change your behavior you could die,’” said Voller.
Though her time at the Emily Clinic in St. Paul facilitated her recovery, Voller did not feel truly healed from her mental illness until this year, after completing a 22-mile hike along the Na’Pali coast in Kaua’i, an island in the Hawaiian archipelago.
A venture grant over winter break funded both Voller’s hike and her time spent shadowing the medical staff at the Ai’Pono clinic in Maui, Hawaii’s only residential eating disorder clinic. It was only after the self-discovery she experienced during that time that Voller felt she had finally reached full recovery. Now, she is determined that others facing the same struggles she did might recover as well.
“It’s time for me to share my own story with the humble aspiration that it can and will inspire others to get help and to heal,” said Voller. “The most important thing for me for people to know is that healing, true healing, and recovery is possible. I think if someone had said that to me when I was eleven or even a first year at CC it wouldn’t have taken a decade for me to get better.”
She continues: “I felt like there was a need to have a talk about eating disorders on campus. Over the summer, I read a report from the National Eating Disorder Association that one out of four women and one out of six men will deal with some sort of eating disorder during their undergraduate education.” Voller set about creating an event series that would address this issue in a CC-specific manner.
Dr. Anita Johnson, head of the Ai’Pono clinic Voller visited and author of “Eating by the Light of the Moon,” a book that profoundly impacted Voller, will be one of the most exciting speakers in the series. “I emailed her to see if she’d be interested in coming to CC to speak,” said Voller, “and that was the start of my Capstone project. She is an inspiration. I’m honored to have her here.”
Dr. Johnson will give a keynote lecture on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 12:15 p.m. in Armstrong Theater.
Jenni Shaefer, author of “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me” will give a keynote lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 24, also at 12:15 p.m. in Armstrong. “She is coming pro-bono,” Voller said, “which I am so grateful for.”
Other events include a screening of the documentary Just Eat, a body-positive yoga class taught by Chelsea Roff, founder of Eat, Breathe, Thrive, training and workshops for CC’s Athletics Department and Residential Advisors, and free assessments and referrals by certified eating disorders specialists from the Eating Disorder Center of Colorado Springs.
“The project got out of control in the best way possible,” Voller said. “CC Student Government Association donated $10,000 for these events. The Eating Disorder Center of Colorado Springs is providing their services pro-bono so that any CC student who is worried that they or a loved one might be struggling can get a free screening. ”
Voller feels that though eating disorders are not widely talked about on campus, they have a greater presence than people realize, and attendance at these events could be extremely important for some students who may be experiencing disordered eating or have friends that are.
“Eating disorders are incredibly deadly,” said Voller. “One person in the U.S. dies from some form of eating disorder every 62 minutes. It’s become normal to become obsessed with diet and exercise and throw around language like, ‘I wish I was a certain weight.’ We look the other way when people actually need help.”
She continues: “It takes a lot of courage to say that you’re struggling with something when everyone wants to be peppy and happy. Hopefully we’ll really be able to break the stigma and have an open conversation so that no CC student will be part of that 62-minute statistic.”
Keep an eye out for more scheduling information as NEDA week gets closer.