Twenty million women in America suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorder Association, and symptoms can plague individuals as early as the age of six.
Patti Geolat, was shocked by those numbers. She had started doing research after her niece, Kelly Burk Nobbe, died in 2009 of heart failure from anorexia, an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. She was only 26 years old.
As Geolat continued her research, she found that 80 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat; 42 percent of young girls wished to be thinner by third grade; and 51 percent of 9- and 10-year-old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.
She looked for an organization that targeted this demographic, and there were none. Geolat decided to change that by forming the Something for Kelly foundation, which aims to beat youth susceptibility to eating disorders through preventative services and educational programming.
Today, the foundation is a growing 501c3 nonprofit with an involved board of directors, full support of the family and engaged volunteers. The organization is a consciousness-raising effort, targeting younger audiences and sparking healthy conversation.
“We wanted to make a difference in the lives of kids that were at their formative age. Primarily, ages six to 12 are when children really start to get a sense of who they are,” Geolat said. “The whole idea is to have children realize that healthy choices about eating are essential.”
The foundation’s namesake, Geolat’s niece, was a beautiful, bright girl. A real joy to be around, but body image was her nuisance, said Geolat. In high school, she gained some weight and began watching calories, exercising, and eating healthy to regain control.
It seemed sensible, but by college it had evolved into an eating disorder. Nobbe wasn’t in denial, but Geolat said it wasn’t discussed. Not with family, friends, or even Nobbe’s husband.
Nobbe was treated for her illness. She had some great stints, and she had lows.
“Like with any mental disease or struggle that you have, it’s not just a straight path to a cure,” Geolat said. “I guess enough damage had been done and her little heart wouldn’t continue.”
Nobbe’s death devastated the family. Her mother could only speak of her daughter with grief. What could have been done? What could have been said? How could they have helped?
The family always wanted to do something to help Nobbe while she was still alive. Through Something for Kelly, they are helping children ages six through 12 who are fighting the same demons Nobbe did.
“If we wait until the disorder already has a grasp on the lives of teenagers and children, it makes it so much harder to silence,” said Evann Whitt, development and event coordinator for the Something for Kelly Foundation. “If we start putting in the energy and effort into preventing the disorder in the first place, we can truly make a huge difference in ending eating disorders.”
Their drive to stop eating disorders before it takes root has inspired both Geolat and Whitt.
“It’s very touching to see them completely and articulately explain what we do and be so impassioned by it,” said Whitt, who also struggled with body image as an adolescent. “It’s incredible to see everyone empowered to make a difference.”