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Annie Giupponi, a coun­selor at the Ambler Health Center, spoke at a Light­house event on Thursday night.
Courtesy | Sarah Strubing

Twenty-four million people in the U.S. alone struggle with an eating dis­order, showing that often eating dis­orders may go unseen in neighbors, friends, and family. Annie Giupponi, a coun­selor at the Ambler Health and Wellness Center, shared this sta­tistic at a Light­house event on Thursday night. Because of her pro­fes­sional expe­rience working with college stu­dents with eating dis­orders, she, as well as two stu­dents, pro­vided valuable advice at the club’s first event of the semester.

Pres­ident of Light­house and senior Taylor Hannel started the night by sharing the story of her own struggle with an eating dis­order and her path to recovery to a crowd of about 75.

Hannel revealed about three years ago she sat in the same seat as those in the audience, lis­tening to a similar talk about eating dis­orders spon­sored by Light­house. She admitted even as she sat in the audience years ago, she denied she was having sig­nif­icant troubles.

“I thought, ‘I didn’t have a problem; I don’t have a story worth sharing,’” Hannel said.

She started seeking coun­seling from the health center when she first trans­ferred to Hillsdale three and a half years ago. She said it wasn’t easy, and it took many visits to start talking about her anxiety and depression and even longer to open up about the abnormal behaviors she was noticing about herself.

Hannel elab­o­rated on the everyday anx­i­eties caused by her eating dis­order, from getting dressed in the morning, to avoiding meal­times, to facing the pressure of per­fection in her studies.

After her coun­selor sug­gested the idea of vis­iting a res­i­dential eating dis­order program, Hannel was appre­hensive. As they talked about it more, she said she started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I began to think that things can get better, that they will get better, and that I deserve to get better,” she said.

Hannel explained that last spring she took time off from school to finally take the step to visit a res­i­dential eating dis­order program.

“Just going to treatment doesn’t make you cured. Just going to therapy once or twice doesn’t make you better,” Hannel said. “It’s con­tinual, and you really have to work at it.”

Senior Branden Bisher gave his tes­timony fol­lowing Hannel.

Bisher des­tig­ma­tized the assumption that eating dis­orders are gender spe­cific. He noticed the start of his trials with his body image as early as the age of eight.

He explained a mis­con­ception he realized about eating dis­orders: it doesn’t have to do with the food itself at all.

“It comes from looking for some­thing I could control or place value on,” Bisher said. “I chan­neled all the anger from what people had told me, and I expressed it through those habits.”

Above all, Bisher said he could not sep­arate recovery from his faith.

“Recovery for me is taking the focus off myself and real­izing that we are all a work in progress,” Bisher said. “Jesus tells us that wherever you are, whatever you have, he’s going to meet you where you’re at.”

Giupponi fin­ished the talk by pro­viding advice to those who might have a friend or family member who struggles with mental health and explaining what an eating dis­order is and feels like.

“It’s easy to over-sim­plify and min­imize how dif­ficult it can be,” Giupponi said.

She explained that the sta­tistic of 24 million people who have an eating dis­order only reflects a number of people who are diag­nosable and have reached out for help. She said 98 percent of these 24 million people are between the ages of 12 and 25, vital years where ado­les­cents and adults deal with the stress of being in high school and college.

“Take time to listen,” Giupponi said. “Your friend might share some­thing that seems really small to you, but is really huge to them. Be patient; recovery can be a long process.”

Giupponi said she is pas­sionate about helping college stu­dents overcome eating dis­orders through her work at her private practice in East Lansing and here at Hillsdale where she works once a week with stu­dents.

“If you would have asked me three years ago what I needed to hear, it would have been, ‘It’s okay to not be okay; you don’t need to have every­thing figured out,’” Hannel said.