Jillian Gasper, 26, a former All-Catholic soccer player from Archbishop Ryan High School, is working hard to overcome the bulimia that made her life “totally unmanageable.” She wants to share her story to give hope to others struggling with eating disorders.

Jillian Gasper, 26, a former All-Catholic soccer player from Archbishop Ryan High School, is working hard to overcome the bulimia that made her life “totally unmanageable.” She wants to share her story to give hope to others struggling with eating disorders.

by Mary Nearpass, MA, MS

– Part Two

Every day in school on her lunch break, Jillian Gasper, an all-Catholic soccer player at Archbishop Ryan High School in Northeast Philly, would go to the library and look up how to be a “better anorexic and bulimic” and how to lose more weight. She never told anyone what she was doing, not even her best friend, because “I didn’t want my friends to start purging and lose more weight than me. I wanted to be the skinniest at all times.”

As the intensity of the obsession continued, Jillian began hiding food in her room, going to fast food restaurants and ordering quantities of food. She would even eat out of trashcans. “I knew I could eat whatever I wanted as long as I purged.”

After a year of this fixation and entering her senior year of high school, Jillian became severely depressed, suicidal, isolating herself from family and friends. Her parents finally found out what she was doing (remember, people with addictions are professionals in the art of deception and lies, including to themselves) and got her help right away. A month into treatment, Jillian told them she was all-better, and they believed her. She had lied.

For the next three years, this behavior and lifestyle continued. Then when Jillian’s father passed away of cancer when she was only 21 years old, her eating disorder became worse than ever. Her hair began to fall out, her menstrual cycle ceased, her electrolytes and blood levels were completely off, she had developed an irregular heartbeat, her throat and eyes were continually swollen, and she had scars on the back of her hand from the purging. Jillian became so weak it was hard for her to even stand, and she began coughing up blood. She even had to have emergency surgery on her throat.

What was the bottom line? Her doctor said if she didn’t stop what she was doing and how she was living, she would die while still young. Her life had become completely and totally unmanageable.

The next two years, she managed to get a waitressing job in order to try to get back on her feet, although her eating disorder was still present. Two years later, Jillian met a gentleman by the name of Harry, and they fell in love. He inspired her to get the necessary help that she desperately needed. So Jillian checked herself in at an in-patient rehabilitation center geared specifically to women of all ages who suffered with this grueling disease. She chose The Renfrew Center, the Philadelphia location, and was determined to recover. (There are numerous Renfrew Centers throughout the U.S.)

Jillian was doing great and actually loving it there, progressing with all the other ladies who were suffering with the same disorder. Two weeks into the program, however, she received a knock on the door from one of the staff stating that her insurance had run out. She was forced to leave the facility immediately.

Obviously devastated, she began purging in less than a month. A year later, she got engaged. Jillian knew she had to get herself better if she wanted to live a full life and have a family some day. She began looking all over for treatment centers. She even wrote to Dr. Phil and Oprah for help, but to no avail.

One day, someone told her about a 12-step program that was free for people struggling with food issues! (Overeaters Anonymous is a program for people who abuse food by overeating, binging, purging or starving as a way to cope with life’s stresses.)

Jillian, who is now 26, found a meeting the next day, and she has been going to meetings ever since. Jillian truly believes in these support groups, which she continues to go to on a regular basis, and the support she receives from her kindred friends has truly saved her life! She has been doing amazingly well, and today she can say she is happy and that she loves herself!

Jillian wanted to share her story with the world so that other women and a small percentage of men who are struggling with an eating disorder can see that there is indeed hope in finding recovery and to never stop fighting.

Mary Nearpass, who lives near Chestnut Hill, is presently teaching yoga at L.A. Fitness in several of their area locations. She is a freelance writer and motivational speaker and has been a guest lecturer at Penn in a nutrition course about eating disorders. She was an administrator at both Abington and Holy Redeemer Hospitals for over 15 years. She holds an M.A. in Health Education and an M.S. in Behavioral Psychology. For more information, email mary.nearpass@comcast.net.

* This article was reprinted, with permission, from PhillyFit magazine.