Taking a Stand Against Eating Disorders.
By Julie Steinberg
National Walk Manager, National Eating Disorders Association
How do we bring attention to eating disorders, which are complicated and serious illnesses, and emphasize the positive? The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has held 65 walks attended by over 10,000 people across the United States in the past year alone. NEDA Walks raise awareness, unite and educate communities and provide funds to support NEDA’s programs. Every walk – from the walk in Georgia with 20 participants to the event in New York City with 1,000 – has its own unique feeling of community, but they all have the same message: we are taking a stand against eating disorders.
The first walk I participated in was in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was a smaller walk, with about 40 people in attendance. The walk coordinator had relapsed recently and it was my responsibility to fill in. A young woman spoke at the walk about her battle with, and recovery from, anorexia nervosa and drug addiction. She was so passionate and firm in her belief in recovery. Her boyfriend was by her side as she spoke to the crowd, and she told us that they had met in treatment, but had waited two years to be together because for both of them, their recovery was the most important thing. I saw a young woman crying in the audience, and I spoke with her after this speech. There are people in all stages of recovery at NEDA Walks and this individual was still struggling with her eating disorder. The speech connected with her, and as we began the walk she was at the front of our group, holding the NEDA Walk banner with pride.
Recovery is possible, and we are reminded of that every day. When someone speaks at a walk, they are sharing a story of recovery, a theme also present through our activities. People can make inspirational signs, with messages like “I walk for my sister,” “I walk because I am worthy” and “I’ve never heard silence this loud.” Seeing a movement of people united in standing against eating disorders is a uniquely inspirational experience. We recently added a love letter station at our walks, at which people can write letters to themselves about why they are perfect as they are. It is something tangible they can take home and open when they need a reminder of their self-worth. Our walks also support NEDA’s other programs, including our legislative advocacy program, STAR (Solutions Through Advocacy and Reform). The walks have a legislative table with advocacy letters informing participants of pending legislation at the local or state level. Participants can add a note to the letter on why the legislation is important and how it would be helpful to them. These letters go to representatives and policymakers, amplifying the collective voice of the NEDA Walk.
Last month, I was fortunate enough to attend our first walk in Philadelphia. With nearly 1,400 people in attendance, it was NEDA’s largest walk to date. Looking out at the enormous, energetic crowd, it seemed as though there was no end in sight. There were teams wearing homemade team t-shirts and headbands saying “hope” and “survive,” friends carrying signs in support of loved ones and parents hugging their children. There is certainly something moving about seeing so much support coming from such a large audience. But if there is anything I have learned here at NEDA it is that every walk, whether attended by 60 people or 600 people, has the same purpose. And if you can touch at least one person, you’ve done your job.
About the author –
Julie Steinberg has been the National Walk Manager at NEDA since May 2013. Originally from Atlantic City, NJ, Julie has a passion for mission-based work. She has served as a volunteer with the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ since 2008 and is the NYC Events Chair for the Ralph Verde Foundation. Julie is a graduate of the George Washington University where she majored in political science and minored in film studies.