Concerned for Yourself, a Friend or Family Member?

| March 3, 2014 | 0 Comments


Emerson Phillips with her mom, Ashley.

Emerson Phillips with her mom, Ashley.

Yesterday I spoke to a young woman who was willing to share her experiences with an eating disorder. I was introduced to her through representatives of National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) Week, which was this past month. Throughout the country NEDA groups held walks to bring more awareness to this disorder.

Because of the San Diego NEDA Walk I became aware of Emerson Phillips, 21, of North Park, who helped lead the local efforts. Phillips launched and organized the local walk because she felt compelled to bring more attention to eating disorders and so that she could connect with like-minded people.

Phillips, who thought she’d be dead before graduating high school, now works full time as a nanny and attends San Diego City College, studying child development. She has become an activist in the San Diego area, hoping that telling her story will help others.

“Thinking back, the years I spent intertwined in anorexia are foggy. Part of it because I starved my body and brain for so long it couldn’t function. And part of it is that those years were pretty sad and some memories are just too painful. Honestly, I had no desire or intention to recover. My eating disorder made me feel safe and secure. I forgot what normal life was like” offered Phillips.

Emerson first found herself in the hospital at age 14. The effects of the eating disorder had already taken a toll. She was depressed, lethargic, dizzy and confined to a wheel chair, unable to do basic daily tasks alone. After that stay, her parents admitted her into a treatment program. She was doing well, but two years later, found herself entrapped in anorexia. Once again, she was back in treatment and emerged “well.”

Over the next two years, she finished high school and started college. Then, yet again, Phillips found comfort and solace in her eating disorder. She couldn’t concentrate in class and ended up flunking her first semester of college. Phillips became really scared because she knew the toll it was taking on her body, and that if she didn’t get well for good, she would die.

After starting a treatment program in January, 2012, for the third time, she finally realized why she kept relapsing. Phillips now realizes that recovery is an everyday battle. Every morning you wake up, put your game face on and call in your army because you’re in a war, a war for your life. Triggers are everywhere and they can strike anywhere and anytime. That’s the scary thing.

Today she has learned to be honest with herself when she receives eating disordered thoughts. Now she thinks proactively, to come up with a plan to tackle them. And sometimes that means asking for help.

Phillips now knows that she must be her own health advocate, which starts with respecting her inner body. She says the mirror is no longer her enemy. And, she has learned to change her priorities and to believe that “weight is not my worth.” She has also learned to talk about her feelings and fears.

During our conversation Phillips admitted that she has had low esteem issues, which caused her to try to be perfect. She has now come to realize that perfect is impossible and that she has a role to play in helping others, as herself, who need help and redirection.

NEDA encourages individuals to get the conversation started in every community by pledging to do just one thing to raise awareness and provide critical information on eating disorders and related issues. Free and anonymous online screenings for eating disorders are available at

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