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Marquette President’s daughter shares struggle with eating disorder

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Photo courtesy of Marissa Lovell.

Photo courtesy of Marissa Lovell.

Thirteen-year-old Marissa Lovell was not allowed to go into the sea.

“Marissa, why can’t you go in the waves with me,” her brother asked. He was too young to understand how sick she was.

Malnutrition made her so weak that doctors were worried her heart would give out if she went into the water or walked on the beach during vacation.

After a long series of misdiagnoses and months of battling a negative body image, Lovell, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences, was diagnosed with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa when she was 13. She has since recovered and will share her story with the Marquette community Thursday at 7 p.m. in the AMU ballrooms, as a part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

“It becomes something that defines you,” said Lovell, the daughter of University President Michael Lovell. “If you’re good at the eating disorder, then that becomes your worth. So when someone tries to take that away from you, it’s terrifying because you feel like you’re losing who you are.”

Marissa Lovell’s eating disorder started with a sudden change in lifestyle. When she lived in Pittsburgh, she spent nearly four hours a day exercising. At 12 years old, she was a two-sport athlete competing at the high school level. Everything changed when she was injured and had to stop. To make up for her inactivity, she started to limit her caloric intake.

She said she worried over every meal despite knowing it was logical that she had to eat. Her family’s attempts to pressure and trick her into eating only made her resistance greater. Everyone around her struggled to understand why she would not eat.

“It is clearly an individual situation, but eating disorder clients often refer to the tremendous shame and guilt associated with their eating disorder, which keeps them secretive and unlikely to seek treatment,” Laura Gray, a Marquette counselor who specializes in eating disorders, said in an email. “It is not unusual for friends and family to mistakenly praise eating disorder students for weight loss, worsening the eating disorder. So the perception can be that it is not a big deal.”

Marissa Lovell’s struggle to improve her self-image was one she fought alone after her family’s move to Milwaukee. She said she failed to find a therapist who did not judge her for the way she saw herself. She learned to incentivize eating and worked to focus her energy away from constantly thinking about her weight.

“After she was diagnosed, I tried to control when and how much Marissa would eat,” President Lovell said in an email. “I Sharpied off the nutritional information on boxes thinking that would help her to eat things more, but it actually made it worse. She wouldn’t eat anything that she did not know the nutritional information.  I just wanted her to gain weight to get healthy and didn’t realize that true healing could only come through Marissa improving her self-image and state of mind.”

Marissa Lovell said she found inspiration in the stories of people who took their personal suffering and created something positive. These include people like the creators of the Project Heal organization, who met in treatment for anorexia and started the nonprofit to raise awareness and funds for those who cannot afford treatment. There’s also Lucy Howard Taylor, who wrote the book “Biting Anorexia” after her brush with death battling anorexia nervosa and major depression.

By sharing her experience with the Marquette community, Marissa Lovell said she hopes to address society’s deficient knowledge of how to support people with eating disorders.

“Back when I was really struggling with it in my earlier teenage years, I didn’t really have anyone to look up to because people don’t talk about (eating disorders) often,” Marissa Lovell said.

Marissa Lovell visited a therapist until she was 17 years old. Today, she is on a pre-med track as a biomedical sciences major. She said she is finally able to focus on her school work and live a healthy life, to take care of herself without the disorder consuming her attention.

“I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is patience and forgiveness toward yourself,” Marissa Lovell said. “I think the reason my anorexia was so bad was because even before I went through it I was such a perfectionist. So the perfectionism kind of took over. So I think the biggest lesson I learned was learning how to accept my own limits.”

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About the Writer
Devi Shastri, Special Projects Editor

Devi is the special projects editor at the Wire. She is a senior majoring in biomedical sciences and journalism with a minor in neuroscience. She aspires...

1 Comment

One Response to “Marquette President’s daughter shares struggle with eating disorder”

  1. patric on March 27th, 2017 2:01 am

    the information is very interesting, Thank You

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