Kaitlyn Bowman of Newtown Square, Pa. has never considered herself a crusader, she thinks of herself as an average high-school student. But Katie has been through something that she hopes others will not repeat: struggles with anorexia, multiple hospitalizations and losing a close friend to the illness. Katie is now doing well, and initially thought that she would relegate her memories of the illness to the past. When she overheard students at her school voicing misperceptions about anorexia, she felt moved to email her principal to suggest an assembly on eating disorders. When her principal suggested that Katie co-present with Wendy Cramer from the Renfrew Center she decided that it was time to share her own struggles with others, starting with her classmates. She has continued this trend, sharing her story with others in an attempt to de-stigmatize eating disorders.
Katie’s anorexia began somewhere between 7th and 8th grades. “I was on the top of the world at that time: student council president, good friends a straight A student. I worked until I did my best.”
When Katie began to lose weight she and her family initially did not recognize that she had a problem. A basketball coach pointed out that she “looked different,” and a friend confronted her about not eating at lunchtime. Even her pediatrician did not at first label Katie’s illness as an eating disorder. Katie continued her patterns, becoming isolated and feeling out of control. She also was secretive, irritable, and lying to cover up her symptoms. The first person to label her illness as anorexia was her nutritionist, Kim Cover, R.D., who works for the Children’s Hospital system. She referred Katie to the Renfrew Center.
At first, the experience of being in a residential treatment program was overwhelming for Katie. “At 14, I was the youngest resident,” she says. Then she met Julia, a 15-year-old who had been at Renfrew before. The two supported each other in treatment and became friends during Katie’s 7-week stay. Despite the excellent treatment she had received at Renfrew, Katie relapsed, again losing weight. She spent another 6 weeks in residential treatment, and things finally clicked.
Katie missed much of her freshman year of high school. Recognizing the losses of the illness made her determined to get better. “I was so sick of this disease,” she says. “It cost me too much.” Unfortunately Katie was to suffer an even more devastating loss. Her friend Julia took her own life, a devastating loss Katie. Julia was only 16 years old.
It was the loss of her friend Julia that Katie feels has allowed her to be active in her efforts to educate others about eating disorders by sharing her story. She has spoken at Notre Dame High School, her grade school, St. Katharine’s, Villanova University and at the Renfrew Conference.
These efforts, as well as Katie’s participation in a summer theatre program, have allowed her to gain self-confidence. She is starting a non-profit organization aptly named J.U.L.I.A (Just Understand that Life is Amazing) that will continue to provide education about eating disorders. She would like to target different age groups. Katie would also like to do fundraising —perhaps a fashion show for “real” women — and start a support group. She and her mother have discussed a book about mother-daughter perspectives on the illness.
Big plans, but Katie is a very determined young woman, and her story of recovery and inspiration to us all.
For more information on J.U.L.I.A. please email Katie at [email protected]
For more information on the Renfrew Center, please click here.