Community feature: CCAD student features eating disorder, recovery in new documentary

Erica Thompson
Angelo Thomas

Last month, Angelo Thomas celebrated his 20th birthday by going out to eat with friends and getting a tattoo on his left arm that reads “life worth living.” It was an important milestone for Thomas, who once told friends he didn't expect to live past 20.

“I couldn't see a future for myself, and I honestly didn't care if I had one or not,” Thomas said in his new documentary, “To a Life Worth Living,” which is available online at “The fact that I realized I could change my own life I think was really empowering.”

The short film captures Thomas' struggle with an eating disorder, for which he sought treatment earlier this year. A sophomore at the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), Thomas felt compelled to make the documentary not only as part of his own recovery, but to help others.

“I feel like people don't talk about things like mental illness in general, but specifically eating disorders in males,” he said in a late-April interview in his campus apartment. “I'd like to be an advocate … because I know a lot of people who suffer from it and they don't get treatment because they don't think that they can get better.”

Thomas' loved ones recounted their reactions to Thomas' own hopelessness in the film via interviews he conducted. “I could tell it was hard for some people to talk about,” Thomas said. “For my brother, especially, it was a little emotional.”

“I just tried to support him through it all and you can only do so much as a loved one,” said Thomas' twin brother, Andrew. “I think the big reason he went to treatment was he realized everybody cares about him, and it's easy to lose sight of that.”

But Thomas' entree into treatment at the Center for Balanced Living was not easy. He faced his first obstacle when he revealed his height and weight — 5 feet 8 inches, 100 pounds — during the phone screening.

“The woman on the other side of the phone was silent for like a solid 20 seconds,” Thomas said. “And she was just like, ‘I'm sorry, we can't do anything for you.'”

Because Thomas' BMI (body mass index) was so low, he was encouraged to seek inpatient treatment elsewhere. But not wanting to leave school, Thomas pushed himself to gain enough weight to get into the center. Working with a therapist and dietician, Thomas made progress until he discovered the center's goal for his weight was higher than he'd hoped, and nearly quit.

“I was really, really upset,” Thomas said. “I felt like I couldn't trust them. Ultimately, now, I understand that they wanted the best for me.”

“It's been wonderful to see him get better and healthy,” said Thomas' CCAD professor Liz Roberts. “I think that his willingness to be vulnerable and tell his own story is a huge sign of strength. … I'm excited for it to get out into the world.”

“I think the message of the film is universal,” Thomas said. “I don't think it's just for eating disorders. … Hopefully, what [people] can take away from it is that you can change your life. You don't have to be stuck in the same thing forever.”

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, you can seek help by calling the National Eating Disorders Association's Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.