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

“Oh my gosh, Jillian, you look amazing! You lost so much weight this summer! How did you do it? What kind of diet are you on?” This is the very typical conversation overheard by many a group of women over the course of their lifetime from the teenage years onward. Let’s face it; if you’re reading this article, chances are you are very in tune and aware of your body and how it looks.

Fit people pride themselves on making the time in their busy schedules to hit the gym, take a run, go for a bike ride, do some laps, sweat in hot yoga class and/or carve out some muscle. We do this to take care of our temples, but if we are to be totally honest with ourselves, a good reason we are motivated to commit to our schedules is we want to look good!

There’s nothing wrong with that, you say? Absolutely not; our egos all enjoy a little stroking along the way. However, like everything in life, we strive to create a healthy balance to honor our bodies. It requires the proper nutrition, sufficient rest, work that inspires, family and social life in tow, and creating some quiet, meditative time for just ourselves every single day. Of course, this is the ideal. Rarely do any of us achieve a perfectly balanced day, yet we keep on trying to grasp that golden ring.

What happens when one of the legs of the stool begins to break off and fall? The entire stool crumbles to the ground. Well, that’s exactly what began to happen to a young, effervescent All-Catholic soccer player from Archbishop Ryan High School, Jillian Gasper.

Jillian comes from a nice, Irish Catholic family from Northeast Philadelphia. As a young girl, she took to a soccer ball like a fish does to water. Beginning at the age of three, she never looked back and played throughout her entire 12 years of school. Pretty, so full of life and energy, Jillian was diagnosed at a young age with a learning disability that plagued her sense of self worth. Because she wasn’t “like everybody else,” Jillian always felt like an outcast amongst her peers, and therefore less than a normal girl.

While at the beach with a friend of hers, Jillian and she were sitting on the beach, and Jillian noticed that her friend had lost a ton of weight. She asked her how she had gotten so thin. That was the beginning of the end of life as Jillian knew it. “She told me all about bulimia, and how it was a quick way to lose weight.”

Jillian had never even heard of bulimia before and had no idea what it was.

Jillian was very athletically built. She ran, worked out and ate healthy her entire life. She had no worries in the world about her body and what her weight was. At 17 she was 5’3” tall, weighing 115 pounds. Jillian was as healthy as can be, and exactly where she belonged. But when her friend started getting all of this attention about how much weight she lost, Jillian wanted to be just like her.

That very night, Jillian started purging (eating larger than normal quantities of food, and forcing herself to rid her body of the food). She didn’t miss a night, and within a couple of weeks, she, too, had lost a ton of weight and felt great.

Starting her junior year of high school, purging every day, Jillian began to get so much attention from people telling her how great she looked and how beautiful she was. She loved every minute of it! Who wouldn’t?

She became obsessed with being thin. Doing anything she could to stay thin, she would binge and purge, or simply not eat for weeks; run for miles and miles, work out at the gym for hours, and take diet pills and laxatives by the handful every day.

Jillian became consumed with calories, cutting pictures out of magazines of models who were stick thin and putting them inside a copybook and taking it with her everywhere she went. Whenever she wanted to eat, she would look at that book.

To be continued next week . . .

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.

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