DiScala Addresses Bulimia

Jennifer Reynolds

A bit of Hollywood fame visited Colgate on Tuesday night when The Sopranos star Jamie-Lynn DiScala spoke about her experiences with fame, growing-up and eating disorders. Sponsored by the Body Image Network, Colgate Activities Board, Men Advocating Change and Colgate Advocates of Responsible Eating Styles (CARES), DiScala’s engaging speech drew a large crowd to the Memorial Chapel. The story DiScala shared with the Colgate community was not one of luxury, but rather a story to which many people can relate. Starting with ballet classes and musical theater, DiScala loved to perform even at a young age. Her first major success was when she received the role of Meadow on a show HBO was developing called The Sopranos. After this initial taste of success and experiencing the break-up of her first relationship, DiScala started to feel pressures that she was not living up to expectations, especially those demanded of her physical appearance and level of achievement. “For the first time in my life, I started to question myself,” DiScala said. “It was just an overwhelming feeling that I had never had before.” These internal pressures were compounded when her friends began to talk of dieting and losing weight. When they decided to go on diets, DiScala joined them and started down a road that led to the development of an eating disorder called exercise bulimia. Afflicted with this disorder, DiScala shared how she slowly increased her amount of exercise until she was working out four and a half hours each morning along with playing sports in high school and attending dance classes. “My diet and exercise routine were a way to fill the void of expectations I felt I was not meeting,” she said. Five months later, DiScala had lost 45 pounds. “What I thought I was controlling the whole time was controlling me,” DiScala said. “I didn’t like the girl I was, but I was too afraid to change the life I had created.” After informing her parents of her problem, DiScala experienced a turning point when visiting her middle brother who had been away at college. It was then that she realized she had changed so much that her brother did not even recognize her at the airport. She also described discovering that eating a piece of a cake was not going to suddenly make all her clothes not fit. After this visit, DiScala realized for the first time that maybe she could start on the slow road to recovery. DiScala’s role on The Sopranos further accelerated her recovery, as the producers threatened to take away the role if she did not start gaining weight and recovering her health. This was the impetus, she said, that she needed.”This is my dream,” DiScala said. “I’m not going to give it up. I’m going to start putting on weight.”While it was not easy, DiScala did manage to reach her goals and regain a healthy lifestyle. She experienced numerous setbacks, such as people posting negative comments about her weight on The Sopranos website message board. Soon after she decided to come out publicly about her eating disorder on the talk show The View in hopes that she could let other people know that they were not alone. After this appearance, DiScala started working as an ambassador of the National Eating Disorders Association. Her work with this group was motivated out of the desire to help others and help herself.”It has been the most powerful, uplifting experience I have ever had in my life, more so than anything in my career,” she said. DiScala suffered another roadblock in 2000 when she was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. The disease left her briefly paralyzed when doctors could not make the diagnosis, as well as requiring her to learn how to walk again. DiScala sought to work out some of these issues and let others who suffer from eating disorders know that they are not alone by writing her autobiography, Wise Girl: What I’ve Learned About Life, Love and Loss. She signed copies of the book Tuesday afternoon at the Colgate Bookstore and after the speech. “Writing the book was really difficult for me because I had to revisit a lot of memories I thought I was going to keep as skeletons in the closet,” she said. “I’m only just one example.” DiScala further encouraged people who are dealing with others with eating disorders to be compassionate, supportive and patient. She related how her most positive experiences were with those people who did not pressure her and instead waited until she was ready to help herself.”It’s a scar that will always be with me, but it made me a stronger person.” Students were just as eager to get a chance to hear a person from their favorite show speak as they were to hear her story about eating disorders. “I thought the speech was very informative,” junior Kyle Rudolph said. “I had a friend in high school who had a eating disorder and I wanted to see what it was like from her perspective. I was really interested to hear that side and see what it was like.” Others in attendance noted the relevance of having a role model like DiScala speaking. “I think it was effective to see a success story, especially at Colgate,” junior Alisa Levine said. “I think it is a really big problem and she has a lot of things in common with Colgate students.” Several students were intrigued by DiScala’s role on The Sopranos and her personal story. “The Sopranos is my favorite show, and Meadow is my favorite character,” senior Alix Quinn said. “Eating disorders are such an important issue and affects so many people, however they are rarely talked about.” While the audience was predominantly female, there were some males who also attended. “I came because I love The Sopranos and because DiScala looks like my sister,” sophomore Steven Palyca said. “I’m glad I came; it was interesting.”