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Trainer Kayla Cavallaro helps young women get strong—in more ways than one

Eighteen-year-old Emily Richards recalls celebrating her 15th birthday dinner with a family who loves her.

Having barely finished eating, she closed the bathroom door and purged her meal. Throwing up, she says, gave her a feeling of profound relief and what she now recognizes as “control” over some small corner of her life. But this time, with the tap water running, her suspecting mother overheard. Small, frail and in need of help, Richards’ self-destructive behavior could no longer be ignored.

Adopted from the Philippines at age 2, Richards now stands just under 5 feet tall and weighs a healthy weight. “I’m Asian and looked different from my family. I was being bullied at school and felt like I didn’t fit anywhere,” she says. “My family is great and my mom wanted me to go to therapy, so I did. And to my pediatrician and a psychologist. I was on two different medications and felt like a robot.” Then a friend saw a small Facebook blurb about Find Your Strength! An Eating Disorder Strength Training Program Free of Guilt and Shame (FYS!), a program out of Dirigo Fitness in Falmouth.

FYS! founder Kayla Cavallaro, 24, and Richards are kindred spirits. “I was bulimic at 16 and hospitalized with throat scarring from all the acid at 20,” Cavallaro says. “I was killing myself and until then, my family didn’t know. I wanted to be left alone, but finally, I got tired of lying to my therapist and to other people that I was OK. It was either live this dark lonely life forever or get help.”

Cavallaro, a certified personal trainer with a B.A in exercise science and a minor in nutrition, is frustrated with how little people know about eating disorders and the difficulty associated with treating them. “It isn’t like drugs and alcohol,” she says. “Those things are vices, and food becomes one, but people have to eat.”

“According to the National Exercise Trainer Association, eating disorder death rates are continuously the highest of any mental disorder. Other research backs this up, too,” Cavallaro says. “I looked hard to find a therapist who really got it. One woman who didn’t know I was bulimic said she treated anxiety, depression and family relationship stuff, but not eating disorders. ‘They never get better,’ was what she told me.” The words stuck.

Cavallaro worked through her addiction with doctors and a therapist she still sees and is clear that the program is intended to complement not substitute other support systems. “FYS! is a place where girls can gather with others who understand the pull eating disorders present. It’s safe here, we have each other’s backs. Getting strong is a healthier way to have control. Not to mention the other benefits of exercise.”

Emily agrees. “When I first came here I could barely lift my backpack, much less increasing weights. I’m still small, but I like having muscles. I’m strong.”

For more information about Find Your Strength!, call Kayla Cavallaro 207–805–1079.

For more information about eating disorders, visit the National Association of Eating Disorders online at neda.org.

Natalie Ladd is a freelance writer and single mom of two millennial Maine women. A rabid Springsteen fan, she has never met a pungent cheese or vista view she didn’t like.

THAT Girl! puts a monthly spotlight on young women who have something meaningful to share and on the organizations and influencers who guide and support them. Do you know a girl or an unsung support group or mentor whose story should be told? Reach out to Natalie Ladd: nhladd@aol.com.

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