Eating Disorders: The Story Behind Staples’ Secret Struggle


Katie Cion

According to an article by Reuters Health, nearly one third of high school girls and 16 percent of high school boys show symptoms of an eating disorder. At Staples, students suffering from eating disorders cite activities, and family life as outside stresses that can contribute to the disorders.

In the eyes of those who suffer eating disorders, a hamburger doesn’t look like two all-beef patties on a sesame seed bun. Nor does it look like an inviting entrée. To most patients, it doesn’t even pass for dinner.

To them, a hamburger is nothing but an unnerving amalgam of fat and calories, the pinnacle poison that could ever enter their bodies.

“I couldn’t have cared less about taste or hunger or anything,” Dustyn Levenson ’14 said, “as long as I was skinny.”

Levenson was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 12. Like others at Staples who suffer from this disorder and others, she has been treated at a number of hospitals in her journey towards health. There are many causes of the disorders, students said, and they may have begun years in the past.

Another junior girl, who asked to be unnamed, cited the pressures of high school as one aspect that led to her more recent eating disorder.

“I’ve always had a tough family situation,” she said. “When I started high school and had the additional work and pressure, everything just blew up.”

Eating disorders are usually the result of a broader problem, such as depression or anxiety, according to Tom Viviano, a Staples psychologist.

The disorders “are similar to any other compulsive behavior. The person feels a great deal of inner stress,” he said. “Their eating rituals make them feel in control of one aspect of their life. While they believe they can’t control everything, food is one thing they can have control over.”

Viviano says that the pressure may not necessarily come from school, but that it can also come from outside sources.

A senior girl who also wishes to remain anonymous said that she had struggled with eating disorders since her sophomore year. To her, high school was not the main pressure to eat less, but she understands it can push many girls to want to look perfect. In her case, an extracurricular activity created stress.

“Dance caused my disorder. I was told by my instructor that I had ‘more to carry’ than other girls—directly implying that I wasn’t thin enough,” she said.

“Even though at the time I was less than 100 pounds at five foot three.”

Viviano said that no matter what type of environment it is, eating disorders can be found in every community.

“Even in a low-pressure school—if such a thing exists—the student could be suffering from other stresses,” Viviano said. “I don’t think it varies too much from school to school.”

According to an article by Reuters Health, nearly one third of high school girls and 16 percent of high school boys show symptoms of an eating disorder. Twelve percent of the girls and four percent of the boys surveyed admitted to vomiting to control their weight. Seven percent of the girls and six percent of the boys also admitted to binge-eating at least once a week.

Levenson said her treatment was successful, finally, after multiple hospital stays. However, therapy did not yield the same results for the other junior girl. Prescribed medications led to a 30-pound weight gain, which led to a cycle of dramatic weight loss and gain.

Levenson experienced some of the same phenomenon, she said.

“At the hospital programs they would literally plumpen you up and send you on your way,” she said. “You would just lose all the weight and go through the cycle again.”

Eventually, treatment took hold, Levenson said, but friends were always important in her recovery.

“They were the first ones to pick up on [my disorder] and they were ultimately the ones who shared their concern with my parents, which is how they found out,” she said.

The other junior girl also considers her friends to be a primary source of support.

“They allowed me to vent and were just there for me,” she said. “They told me that I was beautiful and that I shouldn’t be afraid to eat. I was able to sit back and joke about how I shouldn’t be afraid of a sandwich.”

After overcoming their battles with their eating disorders, the girls now offer advice to their peers.

“For someone who thinks that eating disorders are glamorous, they’re not,” the anonymous junior girl said. “Don’t skip meals, don’t count calories, don’t do that to yourself.”

The senior girl has similarly encouraging advice.

“Don’t look down on yourself. Keep your head up high,” the senior girl said. “You should rather be happy and healthy than starving and miserable.”

And, to Levenson, no lesson is more important than the one she learned about herself.

“I know a lot of people look at me and automatically think I’m ‘that anorexic girl who was in rehab for three years,’ and honestly I couldn’t care less,” Levenson said. “Yes it hurt at first, but if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s to be confident in myself and I am confident that I am more than what people make me out to be.”