An ASU alumna and other ASU students are coming together on March 12 to host the annual Phoenix National Eating Disorder Awareness Walk at Kiwanis Park in Tempe.
From Feb. 27 to March 5, National Eating Disorder Awareness organizations across the country spend the week walking throughout major U.S. cities to showcase support for those affected by eating disorders.
According to a survey conducted by American College Health Association in 2019, 6.4% of ASU students surveyed reported they had experienced an eating disorder or problem in the past 12 months.
For 10 years now, NEDA walks have raised money to raise awareness for this mental illness. In 2022, 200 attendees gathered for the Phoenix NEDA walk and raised around $20,000 for programs, advocacy efforts and research initiatives.
Phoenix NEDA Walk director and Miss Arizona 2022 Melody Pierce hopes the upcoming event will exceed the previous year's earnings. However, the promenade does more than raise money – it uncovers a community of survivors, recovery professionals, supporters and loved ones of those who’ve passed from the implications of eating disorders.
"You don’t have to have had an eating disorder or be diagnosed with an eating disorder. It’s just a place for us all to support each other and talk about mental health," Pierce said. "To be there and create a community."
NEDA is not the first place Miss Arizona has been an advocate for eating disorder awareness. Pierce, who graduated from ASU in 2018 and studied public relations, was also two years into recovery when she became a Sun Devil.
"I was very unwell when I was 16," Pierce said. "I still got straight A’s. I was still in a bunch of clubs. I still looked absolutely fine from the outside. I think that’s the scary thing about eating disorders – they’re often very secretive and very silent."
Her experience with grief, depression and anxiety gave her a greater purpose, according to Pierce. She founded the Eating Disorder Awareness Club at ASU in 2018 with the guidance of ASU organization Recovery Rising, and now uses her Miss Arizona platform to advocate for others that have experienced disordered eating. As of this semester, the club is no longer active.
Pierce began a conversation across ASU campuses that has been furthered by students and NEDA volunteers like Lindsey Wawrzyniak, a senior and the former president of ASU’s Eating Disorder Awareness club, and Addison Adams, an ASU senior who hosts The Real Recovery Podcast and ambassador for organization Project HEAL.
"I felt really alone until I found a community of people here," Wawrzyniak said. "I went to my first (NEDA Walk) last year. It's such a great opportunity to connect with each other, learn more and hopefully feel inspired."
Adams and Wawrzyniak met at Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders in Tempe, and the duo developed a deep bond rooted in advocacy for mental health conditions like eating disorders.
"My eating disorder started in 2020, during the pandemic," Adams said. "I grasped onto food for a sense of control and normalcy. It got worse as the pandemic went on, and by the end of the year I was just a shell of who I was."
In less than two weeks, Adams and Wawrzyniak will sit behind the arts and crafts table at the 2023 Phoenix NEDA Walk to share their stories, smiles and support for other attendees.
The event intends to create a community to help those experiencing an eating disorder realize that they are not alone. Nutrition rehabilitation centers, therapists and conversations with like-minded individuals can help individuals in their path to recovery.
"Living with an eating disorder can be isolating," Adams said. "The last thing you want is to try and navigate recovery alone. Having a sense of community can make you feel like you are not the only one in the world with this illness."
As the mental health conversation expands globally, eating disorder activists hope the mental disorder gains more recognition as an addiction. Wawrzyniak and Adams, who both major in psychology, wish that curriculums at universities like ASU placed a greater emphasis on the dangers of this mental illness.
"I hope to have a psychology class specifically for eating disorders because there’s so many relating to addiction and substance abuse but none relating to eating disorders," Wawrzyniak said. "I think having the opportunity to learn more would be great."
NEDA aims to improve current conversations, education and resources regarding eating disorders. The 2023 Phoenix NEDA Walk is just one way the organization aims to achieve its goals while expanding local support for those affected by eating disorders.
"I think that this is a great walk to share with your community," Pierce said. "We have dogs, snacks, great people, and great activities. You just get to spend your morning around very like-minded, just really incredible human beings who really want to help others."
Editor’s note: The National Eating Disorders Association in the U.S. can be reached by phone at 1-800-931-2237 or online via chat.
Edited by Sadie Buggle, Jasmine Kabiri, Sophia Balasubramanian and Caera Learmonth.
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