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Why I Do What I Do by Savannah King

When people ask what I do and I tell them that I do a lot of work in the field of eating disorders, pretty much without fail, I only ever get two types of responses. Half of the people tell me that they or their daughter or their brother or their friend had an eating disorder at some point and they thank me for the work that I do. The other half become very uncomfortable and usually try to make some kind of joke, oftentimes along the lines of “haha, you mean you work with people that are fat like me?” or “maybe you could help me out, I need to lose some weight.”

While one of these responses is much easier for me to react to (hint: it’s the first one), I can’t help but think about how neither of them are particularly great things to hear. The second response, of course, is steeped in ignorance and stigma. And the first response, while it’s wonderful to be able to connect with people who can speak so openly about struggles and know that I’m making an impact, means that so many people know someone suffering from an eating disorder.

I do the work that I do because eating disorders don’t discriminate. They can impact people of any race, gender, age, class, or body size. I do this work because approximately 24-27 million men and women in the United States are struggling with an eating disorder. And on college campuses, like the one that I’ve called home for the last four years, those numbers are even higher. About 18-19% of college students are struggling with an eating disorder. That means that at UNC Chapel Hill, the school I attend, this beautiful tar heel blue piece of heaven, around 3,200 of my peers (there’s about 18,000 of us) might really be suffering. Many of them in I’ve seen so many people that I know lose themselves to eating disorders. I’ve seen the way these disorders can take over every aspect of life and wreak havoc not only on the body, but on the mind, the personality, the social life, the academic career, the happiness, of so many people that I love. But more importantly, I’ve seen recovery. Through my work, I have met some of the strongest people that I know, warriors and fighters. I have seen people grow and evolve in recovery. I’ve seen them take an awful situation and turn it into a moment of opportunity and learning. And I have seen that the health and happiness once lost can be reclaimed.

This is why I choose to spend my time fighting stigma and raising awareness about eating disorders. While at UNC Chapel Hill, I helped create Embody Carolina, a training program that teaches students how to effectively and compassionately support those with eating disorders. I’ve conducted research on pro-anorexia websites. I’ve smashed scales and lobbied congress and supported friends that needed help. And I will continue doing the work that I do until it’s no longer needed.

ssmashSavannah King is a senior Women’s and Gender Studies major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She enjoys drinking tea, practicing yoga, and painting. Savannah will be attending Boston College next year to pursue a Master’s of Social Work and hopes to continue working within the field of eating disorder treatment and research.

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