Former Penn State kicker Joey Julius opened up about his struggles with an eating disorder, body image, and mental health in Freeman Auditorium Monday night as part of UPUA’s Mental Heath and Wellness Week.
Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Julius struggled with his weight. He said when he turned nine, he began spending most weeknights practicing with his father’s soccer club. It was then that Julius’ eating habits began to become a problem.
“After every practice my dad would take me out to eat,” Julius said. “He actually knew my mom was making dinner at home but he’d take me out to eat anyway. So for the next five years, I would basically eat two dinners every night. I’d go to bed sick every night and then wake up sick every morning.”
In high school, Julius couldn’t do anything to evade the constant pressure to change. Between his dad running him through vigorous exercises and his high school soccer coach making him keep a food journal every week, there was nothing Julius could do to escape the scrutiny of his body.
“My senior year I chose to play football and that’s when I came to Penn State,” Julius said. “I figured things would be a little easier for me in the football world. Over the next five months after I chose to sign for Penn State, I was kicked off my soccer team because I was not going to play soccer in college anymore. I gained over 40 pounds because I binged almost every single night.”
While balancing the rigors of being a Division I athlete with a demanding class schedule, Julius was also battling demons inside himself. It was still his first year in college when things reached a tipping point.
Following his first season at Penn State, Julius was admitted to a treatment center and diagnosed with a binge eating disorder. He received treatment and returned to the football program the following season. It would take only one game for Julius to become one of the most well-known members of the team.
“When I got back, I started off the season and we went and played Temple. As many of you know, we lost that game,” Julius said. “But when I got back in the locker room, people were laughing; the locker room atmosphere seemed a lot different.”
To Julius’ surprise, his image had gone viral during the game.
“I checked my cell phone and my battery was really low, which was strange. I looked and I had over 5,000 messages and 10,000 notifications on Twitter,” he said. “I became a viral sensation because of the way I looked.”
“March 2017, I walked into my trainer’s office and told him I was going to take my life. When I told him that, I was immediately admitted to Mt. Nittany Medical Center and spent about six days there,” Julius said.
Julius then went to St. Louis to receive treatment for his binge eating disorder for a second time. Following his second round of treatment, Julius finally began to accept himself and accept his body.
“I started to love myself through hours and hours of therapy, through hours and hours of talking with friends, and actually being around people that actually benefit me,” Julius said. “The one thing that I have learned over the last year is that if I try to compare myself to everybody else, I will despair. I am not like you, you are not like me, and if I keep trying to be something that I’m not then I will not be anything.”