“This is not a rich white girl’s problem,” said Kuegeman, executive director of the Eating Disorders Information Network, a west Midtown-based nonprofit raising awareness of the issues. “That’s the perception. … Reality is, … people are suffering young, old, black, white, brown and every economic strata we have.”
Network Program Director Sita Stukes has been in recovery from both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa for three years.
And Kuegeman lost his 42-year-old daughter, Diana Jodel, to anorexia, which she battled since she was 14, he said.
Driven by their own experiences with eating disorders, they began work with the network. They hold assemblies, attend health fairs and host awareness events like the Celebrity Dance Challenge, which will be Thursday at the Buckhead Theatre.
The fourth annual event will feature performances from local celebrities who paired up with professional dancers and choreographers from around Atlanta, as well as a silent auction. Kuegeman said the dance challenge promotes positive body image and self-esteem.
“These are people from all walks of life,” he said.
Celebrity dancers include Michele Caplinger, La’Mere Cornelius, Kirsten Haglund, John Lemley, Jenny Levinson, Mark Owens, Joe Truex and Stacey Weiss.
This year, all of the event’s proceeds will go almost exclusively to education and awareness programs.
Kuegeman said the network receives calls from people all over the country struggling from eating disorders.
“Sita and I and others like us can listen with some experience and special empathy. And [we are] in a better position to know how to listen in a sensitive way and are a little bit better equipped to know where to refer people,” he said.
Once they assess a person’s situation and needs, they refer them to a specialist within their professional resource network.
Kuegeman said “awareness, education and outreach” are their key words. They create educational materials for the community, including elementary, middle and high school students throughout the state.
“I love starting with kids, building self-esteem, body esteem and confidence,” Stukes said. “That translates not to just protecting their body image. It’s not just about appearance or the eating disorder itself, but what skills we can strengthen that translate to a much bigger picture.”
Stukes said the network is working to spread awareness about eating disorders and to eventually break the stigma on the disease.
Kuegeman said one challenge is reaching the point where people view eating disorders in the same way they view alcoholism.
“When I was [young], alcoholism was a stigma. Now it’s a problem that can be dealt with,” he said. "An [eating disorder] is a mental disease that can be corrected. There is recovery more often than there isn’t. You just need to get help. You need to get after it.”
“People hear ‘eating disorder’ and they back away,” Stukes said. “There’s such shame attached to the disease.”
She said people tend to find eating disorders to be vain.
“A big stereotype is you do it because you want to be thin, and that might be 10 percent of it but it’s so much about emotions or the inability to process those in a healthy way. It is about control,” Stukes said. “People with anorexia tend to feel like they don’t have control over situations in their life.”
However, she said she noticed recent improvement with bringing eating disorders into open discussion.
“Children as young as 8 are being sent to treatment. … Women in their 40s and 50s are developing eating disorders,” Stukes said. “I think this event is so amazing because it really does foster that community support and build our network in Atlanta and we hope to spread it to Georgia and eventually spread to the rest of the country.”
If you go:
o What: Celebrity Dance Challenge
o When: Thursday at 7 p.m.
o Where: Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road
o Tickets: $35
o Information: www.myedin.org