My Passion for Eating Disorders Advocacy

By Christina Miranda

Like many others, my passion for eating disorder advocacy began after recovering from my own battle with an eating disorder. This happened when I was only 11 years old. My pre-teen years consisted of intermittent hospital stays and doctors’ appointments while I missed out on school dances, softball games, and birthday parties. For a while, I resented this illness and the years of my life it stole. Today, however, I am actually beyond grateful because I had the resources to access quality treatment and a very supportive family to help me through my recovery. I know too many others who are not so lucky. Of the five adolescents who I met during eating disorder treatment, four of us are now fully recovered, thriving young adults and still friends to this day. However, when I learned that the other fellow patient lost her fight and passed away a few years later, I realized that my time spent fighting eating disorders is far from over.

Having actually made it out alive on the other side and knowing all that it takes to recover, I remember actually thinking to myself, “How selfish of me is it not to share what I’ve learned with others? What if I knew someone who was open and honest about their struggle and recovery when I was in the depths of my eating disorder? Would it have made a difference?”

I stared my advocacy and awareness work in high school, holding a small table at lunch with some brochures from NEDA during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. An older boy came up to the table and made fun of me, saying that it was “ironic” to provide eating disorder information during lunch. I was crushed—and I was about to give up. However, later that week the same student got my phone number from someone and told me he was worried about his younger sister because she might have an eating disorder. I was able to help them, and later connect her to treatment. I realized that the answer to my question was “Yes.” Even if I only make a difference for one person—this work is worth it.

In college, I expanded my efforts by starting a chapter of Project HEAL, a nonprofit that raises funds for eating disorder treatment. Besides raising funds for Project HEAL, as a club we hold educational workshops for other clubs, sororities, and athletic organizations on campus to spread awareness about eating disorders and connect students to resources. Besides leading the Project HEAL club, I also began recovery speaking at Penn Medicine-Princeton Health, where I was a patient years before. Each time I speak, I have the responsibility of convincing patients that recovery from an eating disorder is not just possible, but worth it. If I can give these patients any shred of hope as they fight their eating disorder, then I believe it is my responsibility to do so. However, each time I leave, I only wish I could do more.

This sentiment led me to develop Be Body Positive Philly, a preventative intervention to reduce eating disorder risk and enhance body positivity and self-esteem in Philadelphia high schoolers. While eating disorders affect people of all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds1, existing literature shows that adolescents are especially vulnerable.2 The risk to adolescents is further compounded in marginalized, low-income populations.3 For instance, black teenagers are 50% more likely than white teenagers to exhibit bulimic behavior, but much less likely to receive treatment.4 The current pandemic has only exacerbated eating disorders and mental health problems, particularly for marginalized adolescents.5 Given this information, my experiences with eating disorders, and my work in the community teaching West Philly students, I decided that we need to develop an intervention to address this problem.

Since March of 2020, I have worked closely with Penn faculty in the office of School and Community engagement, the Medical Director of the school district of Philadelphia, an eating disorder specialist at CHOP, the Co-founder and director of the Body Positive, and nurses and principals from Philadelphia high schools to develop a 10-week intervention centered around body positivity. It involves near-peer mentorship between Penn students and high schoolers and uses the research-validated curriculum established by The Body Positive. Additionally, pre-and post-assessments have been designed to evaluate the efficacy of the intervention. After receiving appropriate approval from the school district of Philadelphia and Penn IRB, we began piloting the intervention at Paul Robeson High and Kensington Health Sciences Academy this Spring. We have several other high schools on board to begin their own Be Body Positive Philly groups in the Fall of 2021. Furthermore, we have started groups at Penn for female college athletes who have been especially struggling with body image since the pandemic.

I am so thrilled that I have been able to incorporate my interest in eating disorder prevention with my interest advocating for marginalized adolescents in my community to create a project that I will continue to spearhead after graduation. I am currently in the process of securing funding and hoping to incorporate Be Body Positive Philly into a non-profit by this year. This work has taken many hours and there have been many roadblocks along the way, but all of it has served to make it better, and I believe this program has the possibility to change so many lives. In fact—it already has. Just the other day I spoke at length to a student who is only halfway through the program, but she believes it has changed her relationship with her body, food, and health for the better. She is slowly “learning to love herself.” Be Body Positive Philly has taught me tremendous perseverance and struggle, but I would build it from scratch again in heartbeat.

In regard to all my work in the realm of eating disorder advocacy, I have come to one conclusion. I strongly believe that when you have a passion and the ability to help others with it, you have the responsibility to do so. As long as people continue to suffer from this very treatable and preventable illness, there is still work to be done. While I don’t know what my eating disorder advocacy work will look like 5 or 10 years from now, I know that my passion behind it will not fade.

About the author:
Christina Miranda is 21 years old and originally from Milford, NJ. She is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Neuroscience. She plans to attend medical school after graduating and eventually become a doctor to help people with eating disorders and other mental illnesses. In the meantime, she can be found promoting eating disorder awareness on campus and in her community, spending time with family and friends, and tending to her vibrant plant collection.

With any questions, please reach out at cmm5567@sas.upenn.edu.

References:

  1. National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) (2018, February 28). Marginalized Voices. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/marginalized-voices-0
  2. Rosen, David S. “Identification and management of eating disorders in children and adolescents.” Pediatrics 126, no. 6 (2010):1240-1253.  
  3. National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) (2018, February 28). Marginalized Voices. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/marginalized-voices-0
  4. National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) (2018, February 28). Marginalized Voices. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/marginalized-voices-0
  5. Kramer, A. Kids and Covid-19: A Mental Health Crisis Looms (2020, June 10). http://www.centernyc.org/news-center/2020/6/9/kids-and-covid-19-a-mental-health-crisis-looms

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