Johanna Kandel,24,began to restrict her food intake when she was 12.
“I was a ballet dancer and told to go on a diet,” said Kandel of West Palm Beach,Fla. “Slowly,I started to restrict and cut fat out of my diet.”
By age 16,she was dancing all day and hardly eating.
In Chaska,Minn.,Anna Westin was diagnosed with anorexia when she was 16. She spent about 10 months in an outpatient treatment program,but began suffering again when she was 20. Six months later,on Feb. 17,2000,she committed suicide.
Her family listed anorexia as the cause of death in the obituary and received hundreds of supporting cards and calls,said Kitty Westin,Anna's mother.
The two young women’s stories typify the path of anorexia — right to the ends. One says she will consider herself to be in recovery for the rest of her life. And the other is dead.
For some people,mostly young women,the thought of food consumes them. Counting calories becomes a dangerous way of life. The psychological disorder causes them to starve themselves.
When she went to the doctor,Kandel said she wore a T-shirt,long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt,baggy jeans,two pairs of socks and boots. Even with the extra clothing weight,she was diagnosed with anorexia.
Westin said she believes her daughter’s suicide was a result of the eating disorder.
“We were never ashamed with Anna or felt like it was some sort of a behavior flaw,” said Westin,51. “She wouldn't have committed suicide if she hadn't been so sick with this horrible illness.”
Both Kandel and Kitty Westin have decided to work to inform others about the dangers of eating disorders.
Kandel,who is single,founded the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness in her hometown after graduating from college.
“We do outreach and education,primarily aimed at teens and children,” Kandel said. She said the alliance has pamphlets on each eating disorder and reading lists,Web sites and tips for approaching a friend or child who appears to have the disorder.
The alliance,founded in 2001,is basically a one-woman show. Kandel works there full time but is unable to give herself a salary. She lives with her parents and supports herself with part-time retail and food service jobs.
Kandel speaks about eating disorders at middle schools,high schools and colleges.
“I try to make it more of a discussion than a lecture,” she said. “I think open discussion will promote the audience to talk and to feel more comfortable and accept the information.”
But Kandel said she doesn't tell people her lowest weight or show movies or pictures.
“If there is someone who is on the brink of developing an eating disorder,pictures can give them a competitive edge,” Kandel said. “They might think,‘I can get thinner than that.'”
Anna's family created the Anna Westin Foundation in Chaska to raise public awareness. Her mother does advocacy and support work around the country,attending conferences and speaking.
After Anna's death,the family won a $1 million wrongful death settlement from an insurance company and donated it to the foundation. The foundation opened the Anna Westin House,the first residential treatment program for eating disorders in Minnesota.
“We were thinking about what Anna would have responded really well to,” Westin said. She said the eight-bed house combines traditional medicine with complementary therapies,including acupuncture,aromatherapy,yoga and massage.
Because of the unique combination of traditional and complementary therapies,research is being done on what treatments work.
“We can change something if we find out it's not working as much as we want,” Westin said. “But,in the field of eating disorders,there needs to be more research.”
Both women said they hope speaking about eating disorders will promote future awareness.
“I'm honest about my struggle,” Kandel said. “I hope by sharing what I've been through,I can make a difference.”
“We can't bring Anna back,” Westin said. “It's almost an unspeakable loss for us,but maybe some good can come out of her death.”