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How can I help?
SheSaid:MWP columnist Ka Vang is sworn to keep her co-worker's dirty secret
"She's my co-worker who looks at me in disgust in the break room when I chow down Kung Pao chicken while she pretends to eat her fruit salad."
-Ka Vang

by Ka Vang

I sat quietly in the bathroom stall at my former workplace, unable to breathe and move, afraid of giving myself away. In the next stall I could hear a co-worker vomiting. The painful sound of her forcing her fingers down her throat and food surging from her stomach into the toilet filled me with chills. Did she know I had come into the bathroom just minutes earlier? Maybe she didn't know that I was in the next stall? Maybe she didn't care?

I knew who she was. She's my co-worker whose waistline is as small as one of my thighs. She's my co-worker who has patches of missing hair on her scalp. She's my co-worker who looks at me in disgust in the break room when I chow down Kung Pao chicken while she pretends to eat her fruit salad.

According to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), it is estimated that up to 10 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the United States. Additionally, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Only one in 10 people suffering from anorexia receive treatment. ANAD reported that 5 to 10 percent of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18 to 20 percent of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 to 40 percent ever fully recover.

There are just a few people who have the ideal women's body put forth by fashion magazines and movies. In fact, according to ANAD, the body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally only by 5 percent of the American females.


I listened as she flushed the toilet, went to the sink, turned on the water, gargled water and left the bathroom. I gave her a few minutes to go back to her desk before I came out of the bathroom. To my surprise she was getting coffee from the kitchenette near the women's bathroom. She gave me a knowing look as though she had sworn me to keep her dirty secret.

I am a coward. Instead of asking her if I could help, I quickly walked away. I wanted to help, but I didn't know how. We have never spoken, not even a "hi." That's why I am writing this column. I am hoping she or someone like her who is suffering from the disease will read this column and realize that there are people who care about them, but just don't know how to help.


See ActNow column for information about eating disorders and how to speak with someone you're concerned about.

Ka Vang was born in Laos and raised in St. Paul. She is a poet, playwright and community activist.

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