When Bianca Petracci, 18, a freshman nursing student at Drexel, learned about the upcoming Philadelphia National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) walk, she wanted to get involved with the fundraising effort. It is a cause near to her heart.
“I started my first diet in third grade,” Bianca says. “No one thought anything of it because it was not unreasonable to want to lose a little of the “chub” I had grown up with. My parents figured it would even help me to make healthy food choices. But the diet wasn't the issue; it was my mindset that was the problem.”
Like many people who eventually go on to develop eating disorders, Bianca’s dieting behavior quickly became problematic. The statistics are eye opening: 42% of first through third grade girls want to be thinner and 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders. For Bianca, these statistics became her reality.
This initial flirtation with dieting behavior spiraled, becoming an obsession. Bianca began to engage in many of the control behaviors typical of eating disorders. “By eighth grade, I weighed myself every morning and the number on the scale would determine how my day went,“ she says. “Looking back, I definitely consider myself full-blown anorexic at this point.” In addition to restrictive eating, Bianca engaged in other related behaviors, including purging, constant comparison of herself and others, and isolation from family and friends. She became extremely depressed, and felt hopeless.
Spiraling completely out of control, Bianca’s family realized the 14-year-old needed help, and sought out an outpatient eating disorder program. Refusing to follow treatment plans and becoming even sicker, she was admitted to an inpatient program where she spent her 15th birthday. There she spent two months in the hospital. 11 months after being discharged, she relapsed and spent another three months in the in-patient program.
“What most people cannot grasp is that an eating disorder is not something one can simply stop. It’s not as easy as ‘just eating.’ When I finally did make the commitment to seek recovery, I worked like a dog to get to where I am now,” she says. Bianca feels that the five years she has worked towards recovery were the hardest — but most —important, thing she has ever accomplished.
Bianca was instrumental in helping to organize Philadelphia’s inaugural NEDA walk, being held at the Philadelphia Zoo on June 1. Bianca hopes that her story will inspire others, while raising money for a valuable cause. Money raised at the walk is used to assist with NEDA’s mission of supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serving as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care.
Bianca’s story and attitude is inspiring. “I want to tell people that recovery is possible, they’re not alone and even though it is not going to be easy, it is so worth it. I am so glad I am here today to participate in the NEDA Walk and it is my hope to continue to help others find recovery,” she says.
Walk Venue: Philadelphia Zoo
Walk Location: 3400 W. Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Walk Date: Sunday, June 1, 2014
Check In Time: 8AM
Walk Start Time: 9AM Walk End Time: 11AM
Walk Fundraising Goal: $60,000
Contact: Heather Trobert, PhD
*Registration includes an all-day zoo pass!
**Please note that parking at the zoo is $15