First eating disorder walk brings awareness
Summerville hosted its first National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Walk last Saturday, Oct. 5, in Azalea Park.
In only a few months of planning, the event drew 22 registrants and raised a total of $1,925 – almost $1,000 more than their goal.
“Even though our numbers are small I’m proud of what we’ve done,” said walk organizer Renay Marsh. “It’s just been an uphill battle because people don’t recognize eating disorders.”
Marsh said she and her family discovered the community’s lack of awareness when recently helping her daughter, Lora Marsh, battle with anorexia.
“If you don’t know where to go for help you can feel alone,” the mother said tearfully. “And that’s why we’re having this event. So no one ever feels alone.”
Eating disorders are fairly common psychiatric conditions that involve “extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues,” according to the NEDA website.
There are a variety of eating disorders that can affect men and women of all ages, but three are more common than the rest: anorexia nervosa, when a person starves themselves; bulimia nervosa, which a person binge eats and then purges by vomiting or using laxatives; and binge eating disorder, when a person binge eats uncontrollably.
The disorders can cause a variety of health complications and can be fatal.
“More people die from eating disorders than from any other psychiatric illness,” said participant Amy Gerberry, LPC.
Gerberry is the director of eating disorders programs at the Hearth Center for Healing, which opened in Columbia in the spring of this year. It’s the only facility of its kind in South Carolina.
She told participants their involvement with the walk was of vital importance in order to educate that community about eating disorders, the signs and symptoms of the conditions, and to know that they are treatable.
Before the Hearth opened, Gerberry said “South Carolina was known as the eating disorder program wasteland. There’s no help here.”
She said before the Hearth opened, the closest treatment facilities were in places like Florida, Maryland and Colorado.
“There’s been a void here. … It impedes people from getting help as soon as they can,” she said.
But if eating disorders can affect almost anyone – Gerberry said she’s seen patients as young as 6 years old struggle with the disorders – than how have South Carolina and other southern states fallen behind in providing awareness and treatment?
Pamela Wood, LISW, the professional relations coordinator at the Hearth, said she thinks it may come from Southern culture.
“I think it’s a bit of a cultural phenomenon,” said the South Carolina native. “In the South, we have a tendency to be not as transparent about what’s happening for real. We have this ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality but with this disease you just cannot do that.”
But with this year’s walk completed, and the Marshes already beginning to plan next year’s walk, the area culture around eating disorders may have the opportunity to change.
“Our numbers may be small but our voices are loud so let’s hear it!” Marsh shouted to the crowd to kick-off the walk.
The crowd cheered encouragingly in reply.