College student finds healing, silver linings during eating disorder journey

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Marlise A

Marlise A. Cole

In March of 2020, when the pandemic caused the closure of businesses, schools and activities, my daughter Maureen was a junior in high school. School became virtual and the dance classes she loved disappeared. But instead of curling up in a ball and crying about it, Maureen found activities to use her time productively. She still had virtual school, but with some extra time on her hands, she decided to workout in the basement to keep physically active. Having always liked to cook and bake, it was no surprise when she started to take an interest in food, nutrition and eating healthier.

What was a surprise was how her attitude about food changed dramatically – and not in a good way – and she began losing weight to the point of being harmful to her health.

“Fast forward and we are happy to say it’s been over a year since Maureen began to get healthy again,” Maureen’s mom Marlise Cole said. “We are so proud of her strength and mental determination.”

According to Marlise, there were two turning points that made Maureen realize what she was doing was bad for her health and that she needed to change. “The first was when her body began giving her physical signs of starting to be compromised by her unhealthy weight. The second turning point was when she was not allowed to dance anymore. And she loves to dance!”

That’s when Maureen realized that if she wanted to feel good again and resume dancing, she had to make some changes – and she was all in.

“Unfortunately we ran into difficulty finding a physician, therapist and dietician who were experienced in treating people with eating disorders,” Marlise said. “Professionals with that experience are few and far between and the ones who are experienced were not taking new patients or were taking appointments six months out. That was not going to work for us – we needed something now.”

Maureen’s situation was not uncommon. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, the proportion of emergency department visits resulting from eating disorders doubled among adolescent females during the pandemic. 

“So until we could secure a professional team, we started a home program tailored to Maureen’s specific needs,” Marlise said. Being at home, Maureen relaxed, eating snacks and more balanced meals. And within a month, Maureen and her family were able to secure a team of professionals to monitor her health and guide her to recovery.

During the healing process, one of the many lessons Maureen learned was that her identity was not based on physical attributes or what she did or accomplished, but that her identity stems from who she is as a person.

“Another silver lining that occurred during this journey was how I grew in my faith,” Maureen said. Everyone is different and you have to find what’s going to work for each individual, according to Marlise. “For Maureen, being at home, finding strength in her faith/praying, and working with a team of professionals was what brought her healing,” Marlise said.

“I want to share my story so people can see that recovery is possible, but you have to know what you need as an individual. I also learned that it’s important to take time for yourself, especially if you’re a perfectionist.”

Maureen knows in times of stress unhealthy eating habits could return, but now she can recognize warning signs and has tools she can use to banish the eating disorder voice from her head.

“Maureen was really fortunate in that she wasn’t in denial about having an eating disorder and didn’t fight treatment,” Marlise said. “Also, all along the way she had kind and supportive people around her – her dance teachers, family, friends and school personnel – who truly wanted what was best for her and provided her with the support she needed.”

Marlise A. Cole has a journalism degree from Wayne State University, Detroit, MI; has done public relations and marketing writing in the healthcare field, and is now writing in a freelance capacity. Marlise also is a dance and fitness instructor, having taught ballet for more than 35 years. Her greatest joy is being a wife and mother of two fabulous daughters and a dog named Mocha