By Amanda Cipriano
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Elizabeth Rice was 19 when she received a phone call saying that her younger sister had been hospitalized for a life-threatening illness.
She knew her sister struggled with severe anxiety and a panic disorder, but what her sister was hospitalized for came as a surprise. She suffered from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that could have taken her life.
“This was right in front of our faces and we didn’t even notice because we had no prior knowledge,” Rice said. “There’s no way to know about eating disorders unless you actively look out for the signs. I think that if any of us in the family ever had any exposure to that knowledge, we would have caught it right away.”
After spending about six months in Sheppard Pratt’s Center for Eating Disorders, Rice’s sister was still recovering from a disease that left her hair falling out, her skin dry and her nails brittle.
But her release from the hospital wasn’t the last time her older sister would be thinking about eating disorders. Instead, Rice decided to dedicate her time to spreading awareness about this life-threatening disease.
A senior at Towson University, Rice serves as a Body Peer Educator and hosts special events and panel discussions to inform other college students on the dangers of eating disorders.
Last month, the group hosted Love Your Body Week and with each day, it organized a different activity to promote positive body image.
Some activities included smashing a scale with a hammer and watching TED talks about body positivity.
Jaime Kaplan, a psychologist and the coordinator of eating disorder services at Towson who oversees the Body Peer Educators program, said that the organization promotes healthy positive body image in a society where you’re told not to like yourself.
She said that Love Your Body Week gets the group’s name out there and gives it opportunities to do a lot of helpful activities.
“It’s important because I think body image and eating disorders information is just so relevant to men and women,” Kaplan said. “The organization is just so prevalent to students.”
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 32.6 percent of female and 25 percent of male college students have an eating disorder.
“We live in a very disordered society,” Kaplan said. “People are praised if they go on a diet, if they don’t eat, if they exercise and just because society says it’s okay, doesn’t mean it’s not an issue.”
The Body Peer Educators on Towson’s campus host at least one event a month to get its message across to as many students as possible.
Rena Adato, a junior at Towson, participated in Love Your Body Week for the first time this year. She attended a panel that played body positive related TED talks that followed with a discussion.
“Coming to events and listening to different TED talks and women of all backgrounds and all different sizes just makes you kind of realize you can find beauty in everything,” Adato said. “You should find that instead of pointing out a flaw in yourself or in another person. Coming to this has really changed my perspective.”
Towson’s Body Peer Educators is influencing its peers, but Rice knew she wanted to impact more people.
Rice also interns at Sheppard Pratt, the hospital that led her sister to recovery. She said when choosing a place to intern, there were several hospitals, but she thought that Sheppard Pratt had the most influence on her surrounding community.
After graduation, Rice hopes to receive her doctorate in psychology and land a full-time job at Sheppard Pratt as a psychologist where she can continue to help those suffering from mental illness.
“I feel like I’m making a difference,” Rice said. “I feel like I’m giving back to this organization that helped my family so much.”