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First ever walk for eating disorder awareness in western Massachusetts held Sunday

(Alan Vandijk/ Daily Collegian)

The first ever National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) walk in western Massachusetts took place on Goodell Lawn Sunday morning, raising over $14,000.

Over 200 people filled the space wearing light blue T-shirts that said, “Hope starts here.”

Men, women, children, and plenty of pooches flooded the lawn with infectious smiles and signs.

While the event took place on the University of Massachusetts campus, plenty of people from throughout Massachusetts showed up, including students from Westfield State, Hampshire College, and even parents of survivors of eating disorders.

Toni Dolan, a senior social work major from Westfield State, had an eating disorder when she was younger. She now has a young daughter that dances, and she makes sure to talk about it openly with her daughter and the dance community.

“We’ve all decided to join together and support those that struggle with eating disorders, whether it’s in our group or in our community,” Dolan said.

“It’s great that they offered to have it on this campus,” Dolan said.   “It’s something that I think all campuses should be offering…In order to remove stigma there has to be unity.”

Around 10 a.m., the opening ceremony commenced with a song performance, followed by several keynote speakers who detailed their own struggles as well as their recoveries. The ceremony ended with a performance by a dance group and certificates being handed out to both individuals and teams who successfully raised the most money.

After the ceremony concluded, the walk began, taking participants from the Goodell Lawn to the Integrative Learning Center, around the campus pond to the Fine Arts Center, through the FAC, and back around to their starting point.

Kaleala Shaw, a senior from Westfield State who is a double major in social work and criminal justice, is the president of the Social Work Association Club at Westfield.

Shaw said she supports the walk at UMass. “If [UMass students] have these opportunities, especially on their own campus, then they should join…it’s right here, why wouldn’t you want to help support those who are actively struggling?”

Mallory Staub, a junior psychology major from Hampshire College, first dealt with anorexia almost four years ago, and has since recovered. Staub identifies as an ally of the NEDA community, and talked about her struggle with an eating disorder.

“I was very honest with my parents from the start…I didn’t feel well, so I wanted to get better. I think that being honest and open both with your family and friends…or yourself is very important in recovery,” Staub said.

“Everyone was very caring and even if they didn’t understand, they were very empathetic and sensitive around me, so I was very lucky in that sense,” Staub continued.

Chris and Kelly Peucker own and run their own business, Poolman Pools, in Agawam.  They came to the walk because they have a daughter who struggled with an eating disorder and was treated at the Walden Behavioral Clinic.

The advice the Peuckers offered parents of children with eating disorders was to “give support…the earlier the intervention the better. If you suspect, get help immediately.”

Mei Rockwell-Postel, a junior environmental science major, and Brianna St. Don, a junior accounting major, came out to support their best friend who suffered from an eating disorder.

“Attending things like this, trying to be more aware about the things you say, especially about food and eating in general [is important],” Rockwell-Postel said. “Also, when she brings up her disorder, just listening to her about what she has to say and her concerns,” she continued, describing how she acts as a support system for her friend.

Rockwell-Postel went on to describe how to act as an ally for someone who isn’t being honest about their eating disorder.

“Reach out to them…say ‘can I help you, if you ever want someone to talk to, just come to me’ because sometimes it’s just nice to have someone to listen to you if you’re really stressed or feeling really anxious, it can be good to get that off of your chest and tell someone else.’”

However, St. Don cautions, “Don’t push them, and don’t consistently ask them about food because that makes it worse sometimes.”

Kerri Watkins, a freshman nutrition major, and Irene Gao, a freshman double majoring in nutrition and sustainable food and farming, both volunteered at this event.

Watkins has a few friends and relatives who have had eating disorders while Gao, although not personally affected, said she feels it’s an important matter to educate yourself on, because people need to take eating disorders seriously.

Watkins and Gao were responsible for marking the walk pathway with chalk and inspirational quotes.

“[People should] definitely try to go to events like these, because you meet people and you learn more about the organization and the issue that it’s about,” Watkins said.

Gao adds, “if you want to get involved, you should ask around…if you’re curious about something, just show up.”

Breanna Line, a Westfield state senior psychology major, was the coordinator for the event. Line, a survivor currently in recovery, spent two years at Walden Behavioral Care, a rehabilitative center for those suffering from eating and psychiatric disorders, at both the Northampton and Amherst locations.

Line explained how there was previously only a walk in Boston and Hartford, and she couldn’t believe there wasn’t one in all of western Massachusetts.  This inspired Line to organize the first-ever  walk for NEDA in western Massachusetts..

Line said she’s walking for her family, who have been supportive, and for the friends she’s met and made in her own recovery.

“I hope that people see that this is something that western Mass. cares about, that they believe in recovery, that we support raising awareness, and that we want to celebrate recovery and I hope that next year it’ll get even bigger than this,” Line said.

On the topic of getting help, Line advised, “find at least one person that they really trust and say something, because keeping it a secret makes it more powerful—and the longer you keep it a secret the more it’s going to fester and get worse.

“Everyone is worthy of a happy life and you should make your life as great as you want it to be.”

Donations to NEDA will continue to be accepted until Nov. 15.

Miranda Emily Eden Senft can be reached at msenft@umass.edu.

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