Content warning: this article is about eating disorders.
Nobles NED Talks, inspired by the popular series, TED Talks, are a time when those in the Nobles community, usually students, take the stage to share a personal story or experience in assembly. Talks can be formative, poignant, funny…but they always show the speaker’s courage in being vulnerable, and the power of connection.
On February 9, NED speaker Caroline Hodi ’23 described the demon of anorexia nervosa that once controlled her. “It has severe mental, physical and emotional side effects, not only for the victim, but for all those close to that person as well. It is a family battle,” she said. The irony is that this deprivation-based eating disorder, which ranks as the most fatal mental health condition, seduces individuals who crave control themselves. Since the outset of Covid, cases of eating disorders have gone through the roof; in that time, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) helpline has reported a huge 40% increase in call volume. Hodi was diagnosed in April 2020; today, she is a survivor and advocate.
During a time of heightened uncertainty, isolation, climate and political chaos, and relentless advertising from the diet and beauty industries, many are struggling—especially teens. According to Bryn Austin, a professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, the demand for eating disorder treatment “is way outstretching the capacity to address it.” Austin notes that more social media time raises the risk of developing eating disorders, as teens compare their bodies to unrealistic images online. “That comparison creates a downward spiral in terms of body image and self-esteem… [and] makes them more likely to adopt unhealthy weight control behaviors.” A rise in harmful jokes about “the Covid 15,” playing off the equally toxic concept of “the freshman 15” some people gain in college, put pressure on quaranteens to “glow up” as they emerged from isolation, a time that was already especially challenging.
“I was very sick and my life was on the line,” Hodi said. “I was lucky enough to get the help that I needed and spent months in recovery.” While she sought to renourish herself, she said, “the larger battle I had to fight was between me and my own brain.” Mood swings, illogical thoughts about food, and lashing out at loved ones made Hodi unrecognizable even to herself. “The scariest part was it felt like I had no control over myself or my actions. Like this disease was a whole person who had taken over every part of my brain, and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Rather than dwell on the pain of that recovery for her talk, Hodi was excited to share the important advocacy work she is doing, and what she has learned.“Now that I’ve come through the other side, I can look back and see how much I’ve grown because of my battle,” she said, and feels she’s an even better version of herself. “I’m happier with who I am both internally and externally. I’m stronger and more confident in myself than I ever was, and more resilient and less anxious when I come across an obstacle in life. I was lucky enough to have had amazing doctors who worked hard for months to save my life and helped me achieve a full recovery.” But that personal recovery was not enough for Hodi—she wanted to do more. “After all that I went through, I wanted to find a way to make sure that as few people had to face the same battle as possible.”
Now Hodi is working with STRIPED on their latest initiative, a bill first introduced to Massachusetts legislature earlier this year to protect children from obtaining harmful over-the-counter diet pills and muscle-building supplements, which “are some of the leading causes of developing many eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and other potentially harmful health issues due to lack of FDA regulation,” said Hodi.
Hodi hopes to inspire the public’s participation to help pass this bill. To support STRIPED’s work and protect children from developing eating disorders, scan the QR code in the image below and check out both “youth sign-on letter” and “youth survey.” Hodi said, “It will only take a few seconds of your time to complete but it will make all the difference in so many people’s lives. Please know that if you are struggling with an eating disorder, a full recovery and flourishing life is very much possible. And I’m just one example of that.”
If you or someone you know is at risk of an eating disorder, here are some resources that can help:
Side note: At Nobles, student organization the Body Positive celebrates all bodies and what they can do, fostering a more positive physical and mental sense of self and working to debunk unrealistic societal standards.
Eating disorders in teens skyrocketing during pandemic. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health News. (2021, June 14).