Andrea's Voice... Silenced by Bulimia

Her Story and Her Mother's Journey Through Grief Toward Understanding

by Doris Smeltzer with Andrea Lynn Smeltzer

Death by Dieting
Mother & Daughter Tell Story to Help Others

Andrea Lynn Smeltzer was eager to help others. She was a resident advisor for her college, cared for an elderly woman, and looked forward to a career in human rights. But ultimately, the only person Andrea could not help was herself. In 1999, after only a one-year struggle with bulimia, she died in her sleep at the age of nineteen. Andrea’s death catapulted her mother, Doris, into the world of eating disorders and altered her life forever.

In the memoir Andrea’s Voice…Silenced by Bulimia, Doris traces the origins of her daughter’s eating disorder by combining Andrea’s heartfelt poetry and journal entries with her own discoveries. She reveals how quickly an eating disorder can develop and how quickly it can kill. Doris stresses that a person does not have to look gravely ill to be in serious danger.

Doris has made it her life’s mission to prevent eating disorders, and Andrea’s Voice gives readers insight into all aspects of these illnesses. By combining her own writing with Andrea’s words, both mother and daughter tell the story together. Readers are given a glimpse into the black and white lens through which Andrea lived her life. The lens blinded Andrea to the dangers of her behaviors, and Doris admits she did not recognize the symptoms. Andrea, like many who suffer with eating disorders, divided not only her behaviors, but all foods into rigid categories of good and bad, safe and dangerous.

Living in an inflexible world that cannot allow a combination of the good and bad to exist simultaneously, narrows an individual’s universe.  Doris quotes two authors, Mira Dana and Marilyn Lawrence who describe in the book Fed Up and Hungry the meanings often attributed by disordered eaters to the words good and bad, “‘Good’ means thin, self-contained, always coping, never complaining. ‘Bad’ means fat, ugly, lazy, greedy, demanding and falling apart” This inability can become crippling—indeed, it helped kill Andrea.

With eating disorders on the rise, especially among women in college, there has never been a more important time for Andrea’s story to be told. “Disordered eating often develops in college because that is a time of such big transition” says Carla Jackson, a health educator at Pitzer College where Andrea went to school. “A lot of things are new,” adds Jackson. “Responsibilities and expectations that people put on themselves. They control their eating to be able to control one aspect of their lives.” It is estimated that as many as 25 percent of college-aged women struggle with some type of disordered eating.

Doris insists that, as individuals and as a culture, we must question the behaviors and standards that have become second nature, from extreme exercise to the “thin ideal” promoted by the media. They, along with the diet and fitness industry, continually give the message that diverse body types are to be feared, even hated.

“Andrea should not have died,” notes Carolyn Costin, a specialist in the eating disorders field, “but her death may prevent others from suffering the same]fate.” This bookprovides insight and guidance not only to parents, but also to any young woman who might see her own struggles reflected in Andrea’s Voice.