Former Penn State Football kicker Joey Julius left his audience with a message following his keynote speech Monday evening, kicking off Mental Health and Wellness Week.
“Compare and despair. If I compare myself with others, then I will truly despair,” Julius said.
Julius openly shared his story of battling a binge eating disorder, starting from when he was a 9-year-old soccer player in Wisconsin.
“After every practice, my dad would take me out to eat — even if my mom was making dinner,” Julius said. “So for the next five years, I ate two dinners every night.”
However, Julius said his father soon became obsessed with his son’s weight, getting the high schooler hooked on diuretics and diet pills. Julius’ condition only worsened when he was kicked off his soccer team following his decision to attend Penn State, and he subsequently gained forty pounds from binging every night.
Julius hoped his binging problem would resolve itself when he enrolled at Penn State and walked on to the football team as a kicker. However, he said the freedom of college only exacerbated his condition.
“When I came to college, I had the freedom to eat whatever I wanted,” Julius said.
Julius said he struggled with crippling anxiety during his time on the football team and delineated his struggles while a part of the program.
“The off-season is when you run and work out a lot," Julius said. "It was especially hard for me because I was battling something I didn’t know a lot about."
Julius said after one game, when he went into the locker room, people were laughing. He said he had over 5,000 messages and 10,000 notifications — becoming a viral sensation because of how he looked.
“For a while, I accepted it and took on the role of ‘big toe,’” Julius said. “But I wanted to be known as a kicker, not an overweight one.”
Julius reached his breaking point on March 27, 2017, when he told his trainer he was going to take his own life.
Julius was sent to a treatment facility in St. Louis, where he has since been learning to accept his own body.
“Socially, we have always been told we need to be skinnier, taller and better looking,” Julius said. “Those are things I will never have. I learned to love myself through hours and hours of therapy, talking to friends and surrounding myself with people who are better for me.”
Student Kelsey Wettig (senior- advertising) said her biggest takeaway from Joey’s speech was that people should remind themselves that they have accomplished something everyday, even if it is small.
The evening had another speaker, Amber Krzys, who shared a story similar to that of Julius.
In 2005, Krzys said she landed her dream role in the Broadway show “Mama Mia.” Yet, stardom was not all she believed it would be, and she found herself struggling with her own body image.
“We play the 'if-then game,'” Krzys said. “When I am this made-up image of my body, then I will love it. When I am on Broadway, then I will be good enough. I was obsessed with perfection. I thought if I were thinner and didn’t have cellulite, that would be the key to my success.”
But eventually, Krzys hit rock bottom.
“I started to ask myself,” Krzys said, “'How small do I have to be in order to be enough?'”
At that moment, Krzys recognized she was in an abusive relationship with herself and worked to turn her life and self-image around. She got her master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology and has since started two successful businesses, bodyheart and Fierce Loving.
"Your body is yours,” Krzys said. “But we disown the parts we don’t like. The instant we do that, we stop any nurturing. This body you have right now is it. It is the only thing you will have your entire life.”
Krzys finished her presentation by stressing the qualities of a successful relationship with one’s own body, including, respect, trust, love and communication.
Following both presentations, Julius and Krzys took questions from the audience.
When asked why he felt it was important to highlight men’s eating disorders, Julius said, “I am not here to say women don’t have issues. When I was trying to find a treatment center, 85 percent of them turned me away because I was male. There needs to be a way men and women can work together on the same issue. There has to be a way everyone can get the help they deserve.”