In the 5th grade, I was told by classmates that my nickname would be “Pitch Perfect,” a reference to the film’s Fat Amy. In the 8th grade, I was advised by peers that I was too big to wear gym shorts. In the 11th grade, I was informed by doctors that my heart was in danger of stopping from starvation.
My freshman year of high school, I weighed 155 pounds. Often ignored or called the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) of my social group, I quickly learned that my body was a battleground. Genetics and insecurities intertwining, I developed an eating disorder the summer before my sophomore year. Food became a source of constant guilt and fear. Surrounded by “Instagram Bodies,” Brazilian butt lifts, and other cultural ideals of thinness, I thought that losing weight was the only way to attain acceptance.
I didn’t realize I would lose myself in the process.
At my lowest, I weighed 95 pounds. My skin was blanched, my hair was patchy, and my organs were declining. I had a choice: get better or die.
Thus, I began the long process of recovery. Today, I eat joyfully. I am proud to be sturdy, healthy, and thriving. Still, the seeds of disorder are forever germinated: anorexia’s voice never truly can be silenced. Recovery is a constant, fleeting state of argumentation, not a singular destination.
I am not the only one who struggles. One of every 10 Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, and 26% of those afflicted with attempt suicide. The rate of eating disorders among Colorado teens is the fifth-highest in the country.
Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness and their roots dig in early: by age 10, 81% of students report having a fear of being “fat,” and 42% of 1st through 3rd grade girls want to be thinner. Teens engage in disordered eating at a significantly higher rate than adults: the disease poses a particular threat to young people.
Moreover, eating disorders disproportionately impact youth of color and LGBTQ+ teens. Youth of color are 50% more likely to experience symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa, yet are less likely than white teens to be screened for the disorder when seen by a doctor. Similarly, Gay men are 12 times more likely to report purging than their straight counterparts, while transgender students report eating disorders at four times the rate of their cisgender peers.
Each year, 3,100 individuals die from disordered eating in the United States alone. It’s time we take action against this fatal public health crisis.
In the summer of 2021, I turned to my role on the Colorado Youth Advisory Council to enact change. Created by legislation in 2008, the council is charged with examining, evaluating, and discussing the issues affecting Colorado youth with policymakers.
A decade later, an interim committee was added to directly recommend the legislation youth need to the Colorado General Assembly. Along with my partners Delilah Tefertiller and Livi Christianson, I wrote a bill that has been introduced as SB23-014: Disordered Eating Prevention.
Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno and Rep. Mandy Lindsay, the legislation will, if passed, create the Office of Disordered Eating Prevention in the Department of Public Health and Environment. This office, advised by a 17-member commission that also would be created by the legislation, would fund research regarding risk factors, impacts, and interventions associated with disordered eating. Currently, we simply don’t have enough state-specific data to properly address disordered eating. Research will equip us with the tools we need to inoculate youth against eating disorders and adequately treat them if formed.
The office would also create and maintain a comprehensive resource bank for schools, doctors, parents, and students for research, intervention methods, treatment resources, crisis services, awareness programs, and educational resources for disordered eating. This will allow every Coloradan to access and understand meaningful information on disordered eating.
Finally, the office would collaborate with the Office of Suicide Prevention, the Behavioral Health Administration, the Department of Education, and other organizations to provide support to struggling individuals. In this way, they would facilitate public outreach and increase awareness of the pervasive impacts of disordered eating.
This legislation will be a trailblazer nationwide, creating the first-ever public health office devoted to disordered eating. Written entirely by youth, this bill is a unique opportunity for the state of Colorado to listen to the needs of young people and save lives. I urge our Colorado legislators to pass SB23-014: Disordered Eating Prevention.
Aimee Resnick, of Centennial, is an alumna of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council, and a student at Northwestern University.