|Johanna Kandel points to parotid glands in neck. If you suspect someone has Bulimia, a sign can be swollen parotid glands. Click here to read more warning signs.|
“I remember my first therapy session,” Johanna Kandel said. “The therapist said to me, ‘Johanna, would you ever speak to your best friend the way you speak to your body?’”
Kandel, author of “Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder” and CEO and founder of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness (The Alliance) in West Palm Beach, was guest lecturer at a recent workshop hosted by Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Psychology Club, advised by Dr. Claire Wolan-O’Connor, assistant professor of Psychology. In recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Kandel shared with more than 30 students in Weyenberg Center information on eating disorders, and her personal experience.
Kandel, a native of West Palm Beach, explained that an eating disorder can be caused by biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal or social factors.
“For 50 to 80 percent of people suffering from an eating disorder, the cause is genetic,” she said. “Eating disorders run in my family.”
For Kandel, it was a combination of genetics and the pressure of maintaining a certain body weight as a young ballerina that created the “perfect storm” for her 10-year battle with Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder, which began at age 11.
“It (eating disorder) was the first thing I thought about in the morning and the last thing at night,” she said. “It was my best friend and my worst enemy.”
|Kandel's organization creates mirror stickers that encourage healthy self-esteem.|
Kandel was almost 18-years-old and senior year in high school when she was no longer able to hide her weight-loss. She returned home from a ballet company audition in Seattle realizing her thinking was impaired, she felt “foggy,” and by chance her mother saw her changing clothes and was shocked by how gaunt she had become. Kandel's pediatrician thought her weight could be normalized through hormones and steroids. She did not receive therapy.
“It wasn’t until I went to the coronary unit with a heart issue that I was diagnosed with an eating disorder,” Kandel said.
She would eventually give up her professional ballerina aspirations as it was thought that might be fueling the disorder. In 1997, she enrolled at The University of Central Florida and took eight to nine classes a semester, finishing her degree in two-and-a-half years. The rush to finish was actually a part of the disorder she still had.
“I used school as I used food,” Kandel said. “In my last semester of undergrad, I said ‘Enough!’ I was sick and tired and wanted to live and laugh and go on a date.”
At 21-years-old Kandel entered a day treatment program.
“I started to find me, my voice, I started to live,” she said.
In 2000 Kandel formed The Alliance, a nonprofit organization with the mission of preventing eating disorders and promoting a positive body image, free from weight preoccupation and size prejudice. She has appeared on national TV programs including NBC Nightly News and The Today Show to spread eating disorders awareness. Her organization offers services such as educational presentation, training, advocacy, support and mentoring, for females and males.
“Eating disorders affect millions of Americans,” Kandel said. “It does not discriminate between age, gender, race or class. One in four individuals with eating disorders is male.”
During the March 1 session with PBA students, Kandel offered advice for those with a friend who might be struggling. She said use “I” statements like, “I am worried about you,” “I care about you,” or “I am here for you,” as using “I” can be less judgmental. And most importantly, try to get him or her to seek professional help.
“Eating disorders are very serious diseases,” said Kandel. “But there is help. There is hope. My story is not the exception.”