National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: An Update

I can’t believe how easily time gets away from me–it’s already been nearly two weeks since National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW), and I’m able to update on the craziness at last.
A few days before the NEDAW officially began, Karen Saukas (eating disorder survivor and mental health advocate), Zach Stepanovich (my friend and former Aquinas cross country teammate who also suffered from an eating disorder), Gail Hall (Director of the Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorders), and I were all on the Maranda show to raise awareness for eating disorders.

Just days later, early on Monday morning, Zach, Gail, and I we were on Fox17 News for the lighting of the blue bridge in Grand Rapids (huge thanks to Gail Hall for making this happen for the first time EVER in Michigan!). The bridge was lit in the NEDA colors (green and blue), which made us a part of the nation-wide “coloring of buildings.”

The next day Zach, Gail, and I found ourselves with Jordan Carson on WOTV4 Women. Jordan had lost her own sister to anorexia (see Eating Disorder Special: Dying to be Thin), so she was very knowledgable on how eating disorders should be discussed (especially when raising awareness, and to avoid triggering anyone). The conversation we had with Jordan before, during, and after the TV interview was full of understanding and a yearning to connect more in the future.

I had one rest day, and then I was back at the NEDAW busy-ness when I made the trip to Central Michigan University to speak to students about my Running in Silence story, share what I’ve learned from my recovery process, and present what could possibly help us to understand eating disorders better. It felt rewarding talking to students and parents, as well as with the staff from the Center of Hope Counseling in Mount Pleasant, who put on the event.

The final event of the week was a last-minute idea to bring eating disorder supporters, fighters, and survivors together under/around the blue bridge in Grand Rapids. After a few nights of the green and blue lights malfunctioning (and another huge thanks to Gail working with the City of Grand Rapids to make sure they were working again in time), a small group of us met for pictures with my friend and photographer Kris Bird of The People Picture Company.

Matt Smith, a former cross country and track runner from the same high school I ran for, attended the event. We had never met in person, but we had connected through social media and I had learned about his battle with an eating disorder. It was an important moment for us to run together for a photo on the bridge to raise awareness for eating disorders in sports (and show that it affects women AND men, not to mention eating disorders are much more prevalent in men than we realize).
NEDAW 2017 was not only busy and exciting, it was also uplifting and powerful to see so many come out about their eating disorders, or simply bring to light an issue so many still have trouble understanding.
A big thank-you to everyone who has read Running in Silence, supported me in my journey in creating it, and/or has shared its message with others. And a tremendous thank-you my family and friends who helped me as the journey was happening, before a book was even in existence.
I want to extend my sympathy, love, and support for those who are still suffering from an eating disorder. After all the hype of NEDAW, they will go back to their “normal” lives with the eating disorder, continuing to fight. I’m lucky and thankful at this point that I no longer suffer to the extent that I did. I have slip-ups maybe once a month, but these cause little disturbance to my everyday life.
I fight to spread this message every day to reach more people who are suffering in silence. It is my greatest wish that we have more sympathy, respect, and love for all people, and learn to be open to all circumstances with a willingness to support and help. And is my greatest hope that we continue to speak up together, and that by speaking, we can help others seek treatment sooner, and maybe prevent more eating disorders from ever finding a home in the mind.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.
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