When she was 15 years old, Sarah Maresca struggled with negative body image. A couple of years later, she began denying herself food. Now 22, the East Northport resident is hosting next month her first ever Women’s Empowerment Spring Gala, a women-only fundraiser with all proceeds set to benefit the National Eating Disorder Association.
“It is the most challenging thing I have ever gone through,” said Sarah of her eating disorder. She believes the right mentality is the key to recovery and, via social media, personal training, and events like the upcoming gala, is dedicated to helping girls and women become the best versions of themselves.
“I never want someone to have to feel the way that I felt,” she said.
In her midteens, Sarah would sometimes make comments to her family, comments concerning enough that they had her see a doctor. The doctor told her to gain weight, which she did.
“I never thought I would have the problem again,” said Sarah. As she got older though, things got worse.
“I was depressed every single day… I absolutely hated the way I looked,” she said. “It’s so sad now to think about it. But I was miserable. Every time I looked in the mirror, I just saw something completely different than what was there.”
The summer before her freshman year of college, Sarah began starving herself. She felt nauseous, dizzy, sick… “I couldn’t even see straight,” she said. She went to therapy and saw a few nutritionists, but her true road to recovery, she said, began after a “mental awakening.”
“I woke up one day and I really just sat there and I said ‘I cannot do this to myself,’” she recalls. She couldn’t do it to her family – her dad, her mom Erika and her brother Matt – either, she said. So she sought an outlet, something she could do to make herself feel better. She hit the gym, and loved it. She was still struggling with her disorder.
Sarah began researching how to fuel her body, how to eat properly so that she could build strength and stamina at the gym. “I was really so invested in trying to make myself feel better,” she said. “I couldn’t bear to live the rest of my life like that.”
By October of 2020, she knew she wanted to bulk up, to grow muscle. Every day she tried to eat more food. Every day she got a little better.
“I forced myself to love who I was,” Sarah said. “It took so much out of me.” Sarah thought that if she kept telling herself that she was confident and beautiful, that she would believe it one day. “And that’s what happened,” she said. “I was falling in love with the gym, I was falling in love with myself.”
On June 4, Sarah will compete at the National Physique Committee 2022 Bev Francis Atlantic States Championships in New Jersey, her first time ever on a competition stage.
She decided not to compete in the bikini division, which would have required her to lose weight, and entered instead the wellness category, a challenge which required her to bulk up. Wellness sits somewhere between bikini and physique in the competition world, and is intended for women “who wish to be athletic and aesthetically pleasing with a bigger body mass than in the bikini.”
She gained 20 pounds in her off season.
“And I loved it. I loved every second of it,” said Sarah. “I fell in love with my body at the thickest I’ve ever been in my entire life. And that is when I knew I was fully recovered. When I stepped on the scale, and the number got higher, and my face got happier.”
To others who may be struggling, Sarah reinforces that it’s possible to recover. “If you put in the work, you can do it,” she said. ‘You need to build a relationship with yourself, you need to fall in love with who you are as a person. You need to love yourself every single day. And then, everything around you will fall into place.”
Sarah has turned her experience into an outlet to help other women love themselves too, and now runs Maresca Fit, a business that includes personal training, club-themed workout classes, and lifting and self-defense classes for girls and women.
As her network of strong, empowered females continues to grow, Sarah is humbled and thankful for all the help and support she’s received so far, especially from her partner in and out of the gym, Nick Vitale, and her family – dad Jeff, mom Erika and brother Matt – for seeing her through her struggle and recovery. “My mom, my dad and my brother are the greatest things that happened to me,” she said.
Recently Sarah went shopping with her mom, a heartwarming experience, she said, as she and her mom were able to laugh over Sarah’s going up two dress sizes because of the mass and muscle she’s put on.
“And yes, I do get negative comments all the time,” said Sarah. People tell her she’s too muscular or getting too big. “And I laugh. That is how I know I am secure with myself. I am completely confident in who I am... I am so grateful to be here today, and to be able to be who I am. And to follow my dreams. And to help other women. It’s my passion and I am so grateful.”
The first annual Women’s Empowerment Spring Gala will be held at 6pm on May 11 at the Whale’s Tale in Northport. For more information, and to purchase tickets, click here. The fundraiser is an all women business event and will include female speakers in an inspiring and collaborative environment, said Sarah. There will also be raffle baskets and grand prizes including a brand new GT Palomar women’s bicycle, donated by Mineola Bicycle. Any women-owned business looking to donate an item, gift card, or anything to raffle off at the event, can find Sarah on her business’ Instagram page, @marescafit.