David Gaviria spent years with a dysfunctional heart, fainting spells and seizures. But his senior year of undergrad, while listening to his internship boss chew him out over asking off for his mom’s birthday, he realized he’d hit his breaking point.
His stress was real: as an undergrad, he was enrolled in 18 credit hours, working 20 hours and doing 20 hours of research each week. But there was an issue that he kept hidden – from his boss, his family, everyone: he had been dealing with an eating disorder for seven years.
“That’s the first thing I thought,” Gaviria said. “I need to get help for the eating disorder.”
But when Gaviria reached out for that help, people didn’t tend to believe he, as a man, had an eating disorder. They second-guessed him. He didn’t fit the emaciated, white girl stereotype in the media. He didn’t feel comfortable reaching out, especially to people who wouldn’t understand and know how to help.
These inaccurate portrayals of who has eating disorders, what they look like, and how to help is unacceptable, especially given that one in four college students has one. That stigma keeps individuals from believing they’re sick and getting treatment. It’s why eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and are the third most common chronic condition in adolescents. More people need education so they can understand, seek treatment and lend support.
“Everyone knows someone who’s had an eating disorder,” Gaviria said. “People are literally surrounded by eating disorders all day, so they’re having a direct impact on the person who doesn’t recognize it.”
Eating disorders have an impact on many aspects of an individual’s and culture’s well-being. “The student not getting good grades could lower a teacher’s metrics,” Gaviria said. “A family can be torn apart. Car accidents happen because people are obsessing over their food. People with eating disorders make $20 thousand less a year because they miss work or aren’t as productive because they’re always thinking about food.”
If he hadn’t sought treatment – and had his mother to lean on – Gaviria believes he would’ve been hospitalized and unable to attend graduate school like he is now, or at least not be as successful. His mind wouldn’t have had the time or ability to do what needed to be done because of the severe malnutrition he was facing: according to studies, people with eating disorders think about food and their body 70 to 100 percent of the time.
Gaviria says God called him to raise awareness, so that people would understand the impact of eating disorders and the importance of listening to people who are struggling.
Embody Carolina, an organization at UNC-Chapel Hill, focuses on just that. As a part of the Campus Y, they have a social justice focus that centers on the intersectionality aspect of eating disorders. Research shows that marginalized groups are more likely to have eating disorders because of the extra stressors they deal with, and how they’re also less likely to be believed since they don’t fit the stereotype.
Embody was started was to teach students how to be allies for others with eating disorders. Embody hosts educational trainings for aspiring allies with a script created by the National Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at UNC Hospitals.
Anyone can attend these trainings so they can become more educated, effective and compassionate allies who can serve the one in four people they know.
“It could save someone’s life,” Gaviria said. “Being an ally makes you more aware that people are going through things, so the more you can be accepting of that, the better person you are and can be.”
Resources to support yourself or a friend:
Embody Carolina trainings page and resources page