Stevenson grad on mission to help others overcome eating disorders
BY RONNIE WACHTER email@example.com July 28, 2013 6:00PM
Stevenson High School graduate Mallory Silberman sings during a National Eating Disorders Association fundraiser. Her love for music helped her overcome an eating disorder. | Photo submitted
Updated: September 25, 2013 3:14AM
BUFFALO GROVE — Mallory Silberman walks into a Lincolnshire restaurant, sits down and faces what was, for years, the fear that controlled everything in her life.
The fear she faced was food.
The 2013 Stevenson High School graduate from Buffalo Grove is recovering from bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder that could have taken her life. Now exemplifying healthy nutrition, Silberman came home last week after a four-and-a-half month, nationwide tour of speaking and singing engagements at fundraising events for the National Eating Disorders Association.
Her rise from a mind-set of chaos to a motivational speaker and hopeful author has left her road-weary, but experienced.
“I’m only 18, but I feel like I’m 40,” Silberman said.
Bulimia nervosa often leads those who suffer from it, almost entirely girls, to starve themselves, then binge eat, then purge the food from their bodies. For a period of about eight years, starting in elementary school, Silberman battled self-loathing and self-destruction.
She credits a cousin, a friend and a Stevenson teacher with helping her find the internal motivation to break her cycle before it took her life. Earlier this spring, she graduated from Stevenson, but took the love she received there to others with eating disorders.
“Having other people believe in you, it made me believe in myself,” she said. “I never knew a life without my eating disorder. Trying to figure out how I would live without my coping mechanism was weird.”
Silberman’s life with bulimia as refuge began at age 4, in her ballet class.
“All of the sudden, I was looking in the mirror, and I just found myself comparing my body to every single body in the room,” she said. “And I just found myself thinking ‘I’m huge, I’m fat.’”
She understands now that her problem had deep roots and complicated causes. But back then, she responded to this fear by ceasing to eat in front of anyone.
“I thought everyone would be making fun of me,” she said.
She never ate in school, instead waiting until the end of the night and stuffing herself. As the years went by, she honed her tolerance for starvation into a skill while other girls were getting into cheerleading, volleyball and other activities.
“I felt like the only thing I was good at was my self-control,” Silberman said. “The fact that I could go the whole day without eating was my trophy. I thought I was better than them. My bulimia gave me a sense of control.”
At age 12, she taught herself to play guitar and sing. For two years, music served as an escape that almost rivaled her bulimia — but by 14, she lost interest.
“Nothing mattered to me but my eating disorder,” she said.
By this point, people began to notice what Silberman was doing to herself. Her cousin kept trying to do something about it.
“I would yell at her and say she was crazy,” Silberman said. “Everybody knew. I just didn’t confide in anybody.”
Eventually Silberman found waiting inside her chaotic mind a desire for order. One night, at the end of her freshman year, that part of her psyche started to gain ground.
“I looked in the mirror, and I had never seen somebody so fat in my entire life,” she recalled. “I thought I weighed 500 pounds. With that, I knew.
“I didn’t understand, I was confused, and I was angry, and I just didn’t know what was going on,” she continued. “I was like ‘How can this be real? How can I be seeing what I’m seeing?’”
Silberman’s cousin told her to tell her parents, but Silberman refused.
At about the same time, a friend at school had seen enough. Her ultimatum: tell a counselor, or I will.
Silberman did not, so the friend did.
Confronted with their daughter’s disorder, the Silberman family hired a nutritionist, who could not stop it.
During Silberman’s sophomore year, one of her teachers kept her after class for a make-up test. The teacher told her that she knew something was wrong. Silberman starting crying, and told her everything.
“She wasn’t trying to fix anything, she wasn’t that friend who was trying to tell me what to do,” Silberman said. “She just hugged me. That was the kind of support I needed.”
Her cousin told her about the immersive eating disorders program at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates. While continuing her studies, Silberman left the Stevenson campus, moved into the hospital, and faced the specter of a healthy diet, and the loss of control it would mean.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said.
But she did it and moved back home. Then she relapsed, and it was back to the hospital. During her first time through the program, Silberman relapsed three times. She feared she wouldn’t make it to graduation.
Silberman’s cousin, friend and teacher stood by her. And during her junior year, she picked up her guitar again.
With help from therapy, music and love, she returned to school and started eating in the lunch room.
“I wanted to get better,” Silberman said.
By the end of her junior year, she was asking local middle schools if she could come by and talk to students about the struggles she knew some were having. According to Alexian Brothers’ statistics, between 1 and 3 percent of girls in the general population struggle with eating disorders. She found that she loved talking about this struggle.
Late last year, she wrote a song, “Something to Live For.” She said the teacher who helped her inspired it. On New Year’s Day, she traveled to Nashville to record it.
She sent that recording to the National Eating Disorders Association, and asked if she could participate in its fundraising events. Officials at the association loved what they heard and trips to Los Angeles, North Carolina, Michigan and many more places followed. Silberman talked to young people about her fight and her victory, then sang for them.
In the middle of this road trip, she went back to Hoffman Estates, but not to the hospital. She was at the Sears Center to graduate with Stevenson’s Class of 2013.
“To be walking across the stage, never being more alive, it was a lot of bittersweet memories,” she said.
This fall, Silberman is headed back to Nashville to study public relations at Belmont University. She also hopes to record a country album there, using her middle name, Mallory Faye, for the stage. She was written about 25 songs so far and has an offer from Tate Publishing to print her memoir/self-help guide, “Be FreED.” The “ED” is an acronym for eating disorders.
“I’m very excited to get to do all of this stuff, and help others, and let people know that recovery is possible, and to have hope in yourself,” she said. “With hope, the sky is the limit. Anything’s possible.”~.