National Eating Disorders Association

One Mom's Journey from Denial to Advocacy

Paula A. Riesch

When my beautiful daughter was diagnosed with severe anorexia in 2013, I was gobsmacked. I came up with a hundred irrational rationalizations and alternative reasons for her severe weight loss. But, soon enough our new reality sank in: this was serious and this was not going away quickly or easily. 

We embarked on a journey to a then foreign-land of meal plans, therapies, and hospitalizations. For me it was an immersion education program in Eating Disorders: I camped out in her hospital room and talked to all the providers and therapists. I read voraciously and trolled the internet for information during the wee hours of the night. Little did I know that my own journey would continue beyond my daughter’s eventual recovery. 

The more I learned, the more I wanted to get involved in advocacy work. But, I was uncertain and came up with a hundred reasons for NOT getting involved: I was too busy and didn’t have time; I’m ‘just’ a mom—there are others who are more qualified; what if I make people uncomfortable; what if people judge me because MY daughter was sick; and finally -- what exactly can I DO?   

While I was stuck in waffle mode; I read Amy Poehler’s book: “Yes, Please”. When asked how she manages her own hectic schedule; Amy’s reply went right to the heart of my personal dilemma:  

"You do it because the doing of the thing IS the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing." 

The DOING is the thing. That struck a chord—I had gotten in a rut of worrying and thinking. I was (almost) ready to get off of the proverbial pot. Then I went to the 2014 NEDA Conference in San Antonio. The Conference was amazing. I was able to meet and speak with other parents, providers and with those in recovery. We shared stories: Stories of loss; stories of unconditional love and support; stories of suffering; stories of hope; stories that would break your heart; and stories that would lift you up. 

After a few more weeks of second guessing and hemming and hawing; I finally took the plunge and committed to organizing a walk in my community of Madison, Wisconsin; and I am so glad that I did!

NEDA provides an incremental amount of support to its walk chairs; they sent out an email blast that connected me with a truly awesome set of volunteers for our walk committee (they ARE the secret sauce); provided a detailed handbook and amazing one on one support and guidance.  

We formed our Walk committee early; this gave us time to familiarize ourselves with the walk process, get to know each other, and to develop and share great ideas. Coordinating this walk has been a journey of discovery for all of us. We’ve all stepped out of our comfort zone to pick up the phone to call a media contact, a potential speaker, or a donor. Despite an initial dry spell in our efforts, we doubled down, refined our pitch, and are now reaping the benefits in positive responses from in-kind donations, speakers and financial support. We even got some caps and totes from the Packers to give away as prizes!

Every step of the journey we think of new ideas: some of which are bearing fruit, and others that are filed away for ‘next time’. We’ve laid the groundwork for an AWESOME event. Of course small things can (and probably will) go wrong—it might rain, a speaker might bomb; I might get super nervous and garble an introduction; but we’ll cope with whatever happens.  

If I can coordinate a walk – so can you! Don’t limit yourself with self-doubts. If you have decent organizational and communication skills and a passionate commitment to preventing and treating eating disorders: You already have what it takes. NEDA can and will provide tools and guidance along the way.  

That’s my story and my pitch. If you are interested in tracking the progress of our walk – check it out at Madison NEDA Walk. Madison is going to ROCK this Walk!  

Paula Riesch is a self-described advocate for eating disorder awareness, prevention and treatment. Paula blogs on this and other topics at Paula's day job is as an IT project manager.   

Paula's family includes a daughter in recovery from AN. Her hobbies include spoiling her grand-daughters and both playing and watching tennis.