Dustyn Levenson: Reshaping Reality

Westport loves food. This is a town where Martha Stewart opened a catering business. Where specialized shops, from Garelick & Herbs to Saugatuck Craft Butchery, thrive. Where “06880” posts like yesterday’s on restaurants draw drooling comments.

Westport is also a town where the social pressures to eat very little — to be as thin as possible — are enormous. At times they’re overwhelming.

Teenage girls know that, excruciatingly well. Just ask Dustyn Levenson.

At 12, the lifelong Westporter was diagnosed with anorexia. For 3 years — from November of 8th grade through February of 10th — she pinballed through 12 hospitals.

“I had rapid weight loss, low self-esteem, anxiety — all that fun stuff,” she says. She speaks honestly and forthrightly. There is no sugar-coating anorexia.

“I was spiraling out of control.”

Dustyn Levenson, today.

She was also stubborn. Each hospital — even though they specialized in eating disorders — called her case hopeless.

“A lot of times, I was so entrenched I didn’t want to get better,” Dustyn says. “But you can’t see clearly.”

At her lowest point, she was “as close to no daily consumption” of food as possible. She had feeding tubes, and PICC lines to her heart. Dustyn’s anorexia led to osteoporosis, and heart and blood disorders.

Her disease devastated her family. Her younger sister Gracyn — now a Staples freshman — suffered the most.

“She’s always been my best friend,” Dustyn says. But at her 1st hospital, Gracyn made a surprise visit while Dustyn was in the midst of a seizure. “That really traumatized her,” Dustyn says.

Finally, she landed in Avalon Hills. The clinic in remote Utah is known for treating “the worst of the worst” anorexics. Dustyn rode horses. She confronted her demons.

She began to recover.

It was not easy. “I had to realize how stupid I was being,” Dustyn says. “I had to see there is so much more to life than that.”

She says she will always be in recovery from anorexia. “It’s almost impossible to be a ‘normal’ eater in America today. There’s so much social pressure. So much striving to be the ‘thin ideal.'”

Entering Staples midway through sophomore year — where she was buoyed by a few good friends, including one who had written her every day while in treatment — Dustyn joined Staples Players. (She’s been cast as a dancer in “Oklahoma!.”)

In November, Dustyn Levenson will dance in the Staples Players’ production of “Oklahoma!”

Vowing to give back some of what she’s received, she became a certified EMT.

She also formed Reshaping Reality. The non-profit organization — affiliated with the Multi-Service Eating Disorder Association — is raising awareness about the dangers of dieting and disordered eating.

“Anorexia is so stigmatized,” Dustyn explains. “People say, ‘What’s wrong with you? Just eat!’ But it’s a mental illness, with the highest mortality rate of any of them.”

Dustyn has asked doctors, dieticians, therapists — and teenagers — to join the Reshaping Reality board. They’ll offers speakers, make videos and public service announcements, and help educate youngsters that “there’s more to life than your appearance.”

Next month, Dustyn will speak at an eating disorder fundraiser in New York. In December she heads to Utah for another speech.

She is grateful for all she has today.

“My family has been awesome,” Dustyn says. “They couldn’t be more supportive, after all I’ve put them through.” Gracyn — who calls her sister “my biggest inspiration” — has always been by Dustyn’s side.

Today, Dustyn says, she feels good. She’s doing well, and is excited about this new chapter in her life.

Her goal in starting Reshaping Reality was “to help one person. And my website has already had some awesome responses.”

“People tell me they thought they were the only one with an eating disorder. All I want to do is share my knowledge, and put my 3 years of treatment to good use.”

Dustyn Levenson already has.

18 responses to “Dustyn Levenson: Reshaping Reality

  1. I so, so sincerely wish Dustyn continued good health. But the insurance companies fight, fight, fight paying for residential treatment for anoretics–which can easily come to over $1000 a day. — Karl Decker

  2. Thanks 06880 for continuing to blend positive stories (stories of empowerment) wirh those others which make me want to smh.

  3. Dustyn, stay strong… it’s amazing how much you are giving back through your organization and potentially how many people you can reach… You are amazing!

  4. Dustyn,

    As you know, I am beyond proud of everything you have accomplished. The world deserves to know your fiery personality and your passion for everything you put your mind to.

    For those of you who don’t know her yet, be prepared to see an endless stream of good things coming from Dustyn’s mind and heart.

    I love you Dust.

  5. This seems to be a pernicus disease that may be spread by teachers of “The Dance”. Ballet anyone?

  6. Bravo, Dustyn! Good for you for being honest and open about your disease – it does not have to be a stigma! The more people who talk, the better. Looking forward to working with you on OKLAHOMA!

  7. Keep up the good work Dustyn.

  8. Michele Wrubel

    Dustyn, I can’t type very well with tears in my eyes, so it’s taken me a little time to pull it together to post. As a mom of a daughter who dances, I am truly grateful for both the strength you have shown and for your candor in sharing the story of your journey. Living with an illness naturally impacts one’s life, but as you are showing through words and deeds, it need not define you. Our family is very much looking forward to seeing you dance “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain”!

  9. Your courage is incredibly inspiring, Dustyn. I know it isn’t easy being an EMT either! Keep dancing and show the world your gifts!

  10. We know how difficult these last few years have been for you and your family. Dustyn, you truly are an inspiration. Going forth and offering your experiences as a shared opportunity to enlighten so many is extremely generous of you.

  11. What an incredible display of courage. To be so forthright, in the face of so much misunderstanding and ignorance.

  12. You are an inspiration – to your family, your friends, and the world. May you continue to heal and share your knowledge with others. You are the embodiment of “Tikkun Olam.”

  13. Your story gives the rest of us hope! You are a true inspiration. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  14. Sandy and the ILC's!

    You are amazing Ms. Dustyn! So strong, so inspirational! We love you and support you 100% and will spread the word to everyone we know!

  15. wow dustyn. you are such an inspiration. i know that in so many ways i can relate to your troubles. for example your torah portion which you chanted with praise and might, was truly inspiring. keep dreaming and stay golden.

  16. Way to go, Dustyn!

  17. Proud of you, lady, and so lucky to know you! XO