It’s hard to imagine that Holly Curtis, with her unwavering cheerfulness and energy, spent her formative years through young adulthood suffering from severe family trauma and eating disorders that nearly consumed her.
Curtis, now a passionate advocate for eating disorder awareness, brings her personal and harrowing story to print in her memoir “Large Fry Small Fry Medium Orange.” Part a journey through her traumatic childhood and 13 years of suffering with anorexia nervosa and bulimia, and part a “how-to” manual for families and loved ones of those suffering from eating disorders, Curtis manages to provide hope and optimism with her mantra “lead with love.”
Curtis, a resident of Lake Forest, is fondly known around the North Shore as the beloved dance teacher “Miss Holly.” Curtis has two grown daughters and is currently focusing on dance instruction and her work as a recovery life coach for those with eating disorders and other addictions. Curtis is on a mission to lift the shame associated with eating disorders by offering a very personal look into her own trauma and recovery.
“I knew it was time to share my story with the world and advocate for eating disorder awareness, early intervention and treatment,” Curtis says. “I want to help the public further understand this horrific insidious disease through the power of my story.”
Anorexia and bulimia are psychological diseases often stemming from trauma, anxiety and/or depression, experts say. Curtis’ father abandoned the family when she was only seven years old, and at age 14 she lost her mother to suicide, with relatives subsequently sending her to boarding school. At school, Curtis saw a classmate of hers receiving attention from teachers and staff for engaging in bulimic behavior and “jumped on board” as a call for help.
“Human beings need air, water and food to survive,” Curtis says. “The fact that someone is denying himself/herself food should signal the person is suffering. They may no longer feel worthy of being fed.”
While an undergraduate student at Northwestern University, Curtis saw an advertisement for the Anorexia Nervosa Associated Disorders (ANAD) support group in Highland Park, which she credits with providing the understanding she desperately needed to embark on her recovery. Curtis herself now leads a weekly support group for ANAD, which offers sufferers a safe space without judgment.
“I was so relieved to find others who were suffering with the same horrific disease,” Curtis says. “The group was the mirror I needed to see my eating disorder for what it really was and how sick and immersed in it I was.”
To be sure, recovery from an eating disorder must involve family and friends. Eating disorders are notoriously complicated to treat because food is central to survival and eating is a social event, thus Curtis gives very specific “dos” and “don’ts” for helping loved ones make peace with food and mealtimes.
Curtis writes of wanting desperately to dine with family and friends without them monitoring and commenting about her meal. “All I needed and wanted to hear was, ‘I support you. I may not understand, but I want to help you get better. I want to help in any way you want me to. I will not judge you,’” Curtis writes. “Lean in to them,” Curtis says. “It is about reconnection, not isolation.”
Curtis’ memoir is available at the Lake Forest Book Store (662 N. Western Ave., Lake Forest), where she will be holding a book signing May 18 at 6 p.m. Curtis is available for speaking engagements and book club events, and is currently offering 30-minute complimentary life coaching sessions. You may reach Holly Curtis at [email protected], 847-668-5095, or online.
Resource Websites About Eating Disorders
*Courtesy of Holly Curtis