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In the genes

27 Feb 2006

By Leigh Woosley

Laureate schedules seminar to raise awareness of eating disorders.

Lacey Leifeste has done push-ups in the bathroom of the Wild Fork restaurant to feel better about eating a meal there.

She's run miles to counteract the calories in a piece of chicken. She's cried while eating a banana, a pat of butter and a 100-calorie container of yogurt because she didn't want to gain weight.

But the 21-year-old recovering anorexic said it wasn't about food or weight. That's a general misconception that bothers her.

Starving off about 25 pounds from her already-thin frame was more a result of feeling inadequate.

She'll likely bring that up when she speaks on a panel Thursday evening in an event to mark National Eating Disorders Awareness Week called "Be Comfortable in Your Genes."

The panel, which begins at 7, is part of the evening event from 6 to 9 in the Banquet Rooms of the Conference Center at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital, 6655 S. Yale Ave. It's free to the public.

Also speaking will be others recovering from an eating disorder, family members of those with a disease, and experts in the field. There will be exhibits of art and writings from those with eating disorders.

People are welcome to bring clothing and jeans that fit them at unhealthy weights, as well as scales to which they may feel enslaved. These items will be donated.

About 10 million females and 1 million men in the United States have eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. More people die from anorexia than any other mental illness.

It is not an issue of vanity, said Krista Caveny, licensed professional counselor in Laureate's Eating Disorders Program.

"Some do look at eating disorders as a choice people make, maybe as a spoiled rich-girl disease, while (at Laureate) we see every shape and color," Caveny said.

Leifeste didn't begin cutting back on food to look like a supermodel. As a runner, she thought the lighter she was, the faster she could go. But restricting her diet insidiously fed her low self-esteem.

"I was never smart enough, never skinny enough, never strong enough," said Leifeste, a member of the track and cross-country team at the University of Tulsa. "I felt like I was never enough."

Nothing could convince her otherwise. Not graduating valedictorian from her Texas high school. Not the races she's won.

At school, she used to write personal notes that said, "I hate myself."

"(The eating disorder) is a way for attention, that's what you're hunting because inside you don't feel good about yourself," she said. "You think this will make you shine."

But anorexia made her emaciated, isolated, moody and miserable. Coaches at TU sent her to the eating disorder treatment program at Laureate, where she stayed on and off from the fall of 2002 to the summer of 2003.

There, Leifeste saw women whittled down from chronic eating disorders. She refused to become one of them.

After therapy and medication, Leifeste said she's conquering anorexia, sating the emotional hole with growing self-confidence and inner awareness.

"There is something missing in your life, and you need to fill that with something other than consuming yourself," she said.

Leifeste still fights obsessive thoughts about calories, exercise and self-hate, but they come less often.

She makes sure to eat meals and snacks at set times. She turns her back on the scale at the doctor's office and avoids young women who obsess over weight and dieting.

But she insists nothing could suck her back into anorexia.

"For 19 years of my life, I didn't have a life, and now I have this joy," she said. "There is nothing that can compare to it."

For more info: To learn more about eating disorders, get help for someone you think might have one, or find referrals for help, call the National Eating Disorders Association help line at (800) 931-2237 or visit the association's Web site at .

To contact the Eating Disorders Program at Laureate Psychiatric Hospital and Clinic, call 491-3702 or visit

Copyright 2006. Used with permission from Tulsa World.

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