It wasn't too long ago that Julia Schaeffer consumed only 300 calories a day.
She also refused to spend time with anyone, gave up on sleep and skipped classes to make time for exercise. Dance to gym to rehearsals to work and back to the gym — that was a typical day in her life.
Social gatherings were another no-no because they included food and allowed people to notice and comment on her abnormal choices.
"I couldn't concentrate in school, and I could barely hold a coherent conversation with my friends," Schaeffer, 22, recounted. "I would wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed because I felt so stuck in my disorder."
Bulimia nervosa — that was the disorder that dominated her life, trapping her somewhere between restricting her meals, overeating and purging. As her conditioned worsened, Schaeffer began basing her sense of control on the scale. Dissatisfied with losing 10 pounds, she shed another 10, weighing herself repeatedly every day.
"I hated myself," she admitted. "My head kept telling me how ugly and disgusting I was."
Although still in high school, Schaeffer was overrun by a feeling of worthlessness until she first encountered Irvina Kanarek at Rock Harbor church in Costa Mesa.
As the founder and executive director of Rewrite Beautiful, a nonprofit that educates youths about eating disorders, Kanarek drew Schaeffer out of her self-imposed isolation. She soon went on to be the group's public relations intern.
Established in 2010, Rewrite Beautiful is poised to host "Transformation," an art show at the Island Hotel Newport Beach on Saturday. Attendees at the third annual event can participate in a silent auction that benefits eating disorder education at middle and high schools and colleges.
'I saw a couple of them die'
Jeannette Encinias, 32, of Laguna Beach, is an artist who has not only contributed work every year, but was also Kanarek's editor for her recent book, "How To: Rewrite Beautiful." Her pieces feature the words "brave," "wisdom" and "from within" painted on canvases.
"I wanted to create reminders ... things I knew to be true, but that, for one reason or another, we forget from time to time," Encinias said. "I could see that even in the moments when my best girlfriends (or myself) felt weak, they possessed such fortitude, and maybe just a few words, a little note of strength, could help put one foot in front of the other. So, the work was really created out of a belief in the women in my life and a fierce belief in myself."
Saturday's gathering provides insight into Kanarek's thought process as she supports and nurtures young women in their search for unique talents. She intends to show them that they can contribute to society with inherent skills, regardless of their physical appearances.
Until three years ago, Kanarek, 30, split her time between three jobs: a nanny, a teacher at the Irvine Fine Arts Center and a counselor at The Victorian, a women's eating disorder and addiction treatment center in Newport Beach.
"The arts students would be over- and undereating and exercising on their breaks," she said. "I'd go to rehab and see women, between 18 and 70 years old, who were educated and affluent ... going through divorces, and I saw a couple of them die. And then, I'd go back to take care of the baby, realizing that this is the world she will be welcomed into."
So, she decided to kickstart a conversation about eating disorders — a mental illness, which, she finds, forces people to justify actions as they would an addiction. A prevention program is key, Kanarek said, to increase exposure so people can look out for the disease's signs before it escalates.
Looking past the surface
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their lives. The number is likely higher because many cases are unreported. The knowledge that 42% of first- to third-grade girls want to be thinner while a staggering 81% of 10-year-olds fear becoming fat has reinforced Kanarek's determination to respond to these learned behaviors by sharing that beauty lies in creativity, kindness and strength.