As the summer approaches, Bonnie Charnock doesn’t like how people obsess over bathing suit season. The talk about losing weight, restricting foods, being ashamed to wear a two-piece is too much to handle, she said. As a recovering anorexic and binge eater, she knows the dangers of obsessing about one’s body.
“I had terrible body image distortion,” Charnock said. “I’m one of those people who would get dressed four times to go out, because nothing looked good.”
Charnock, 52, said she has battled anorexia nervosa as long as she can remember, though as a young girl she wasn’t aware that it was a disease. Through most of her adult life, she tried to hide the fact that like millions of Americans, she was battling food, battling depression and battling herself.
“Most don’t realize what a living hell the life of someone with an eating disorder can be,” she said. “For me to sit down and talk about this now with someone (is remarkable). I would have been absolutely incapable of this two years ago.”
In 2005, Charnock was admitted for the third, and she hopes final, time to the Renfrew Center of Philadelphia, an eating disorder treatment center. Nearly 5 feet 11 inches tall, she then weighed about 115 pounds.
During her six-week stay, Charnock said she saw men and women struggle with their disease, often alone, no friends or families coming to visit.
“If you don’t have a good support system, your chances of getting better are decreased,” she said.
She also saw a young woman wearing a T-shirt that said, “no binge, no purge” —-a message meant to promote recovery.
“I thought to myself, I would never wear those,” she said.
She realized in that moment that, unlike breast cancer or heart disease, no silicone wristband or lapel ribbon supports eating disorder recovery.
An idea began to form, and by 2006, Charnock had set in motion a network to raise awareness, but also to support those recovering from an eating disorder. Part of the goal is educating people, even those who don’t have the disease, she said, in hopes of eliminating the stigma that keeps sufferers silent.
With the help of friends, Charnock founded the Women In Recovery from Eating Disorders Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit otherwise known as the WIRED foundation. Her friends, Julie Kennedy, Judi Robinson and Franca Spurrier, now serve on the foundation’s board.
The women recently launched the WIRED Foundation’s website. Charnock hopes people will visit www.wiredfoundation.org, to learn more about eating disorder recovery, as well as to purchase apparel and jewelry that carries the foundation’s logo. Her dream is for the families of people with eating disorders to wear WIRED bracelets as a token of support for recovery, she said.
“People say breast cancer is a family disease,” Charnock said. “I always thought to myself, ‘Then eating disorders must be an orphan’s disease, because no one wants to talk about it.'”
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders estimates that eight million Americans, or 3 percent of the population, suffer from an eating disorder. The organization notes that a study by Harvard University Medical School suggests nearly a quarter of adults with eating disorders are men.
Charnock said larger goals include lobbying for change within the insurance industry to better fund treatment for eating disorders.
She also hopes WIRED can educate people to recognize the warning signs sooner. She used to wear baggy clothes to hide her body, she said, or would try to stand behind furniture. She’d wake up at 2 a.m. to try on clothing, and wouldn’t eat in front of people, only to sneak food and binge eat alone.