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New eating disorder center opens in Roseville

Program involves family in the recovery process
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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An eating disorder is an isolating illnesses, with sufferers left feeling alone and eager to connect with others, according to a local therapist.

This desire to relate can turn into an unhealthy bond forged online through websites and chat rooms that glorify eating disorders or offer tips on how to rid the stomach of food.

"It's the challenge of glorification in our culture of people being thin, restricting themselves, over-exercising," said Jennifer Lombardi, Executive Director of Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program, which recently opened in Roseville. "(With the Internet), it's at your fingertips, literally. There are pluses of social media and this is one of the downsides."

Pop singer Lady Gaga recently Tweeted #popsingersdonteat, sparking a controversy among her followers upset that she would joke about eating disorders, especially considering she admitted to having suffered from bulimia in the past.

For the nearly 10 million females and 1 million males dealing with bulimia or the rarer anorexia nervosa, the disorder is no laughing matter. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, killing 10 percent of its victims.

Millions more people struggle with compulsive eating, according to a 2010 factsheet from the National Eating Disorders Association.

"An eating disorder is your friend, your closest relationship, and you do anything to protect it," Lombardi said.

Banning "pro-ana" sites

Feelings of loneliness and wanting to protect the disorder may explain "pro-ana" websites, which offer a type of community for people with eating disorders. The site PrettyThin.com describes itself as part of a movement begun more than a decade ago to "connect with each other so as not to suffer in silence."

In March, social media site Pinterest banned pro-eating disorder posts. Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr have done the same.

Parents should be mindful of what their child looks at on the Internet and teach them to be critical consumers, recognizing for instance that models in fashion magazines are air-brushed, Lombardi said. The No. 1 thing parents can do: Cook and eat with their kids.

Lombardi said she gets lots of phone calls from concerned parents.

"Ninety percent of the time you're concerned, your concerns are justified," she said. "By the time people notice things, the behavior has been going on for a long time."

Role of families

On May 1, Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program opened a new treatment and prevention center in Roseville. The organization's Denver-based parent company, Eating Recovery Center, also has offices in Sacramento and Fresno.

Roseville's center has three therapists, one dietician and one nurse. The evening-based program serves adolescents but will expand to include adults. Five teens are currently in the program. The center offers an intensive outpatient program, where patients participate in individual, family and group therapy to discuss mood stability, communication, meal intervention and other topics. They meet with a dietician and nurse weekly.

The local center practices the Maudsley method, a relatively new treatment that involves parents in recovery - who supervise meals and ensure their child doesn't over-exercise. Lombardi said the eating disorder world used to vilify families, seeing them as part of the problem.

"There wasn't a good understanding of why people struggle and what puts people at risk," she said.

Eating disorders are biologically based illnesses that some people are hardwired for and others are not. Line up 15 teens and expose them to dieting - most of the kids will be fine.

"For one or two (of them), the behaviors mean something different," Lombardi said.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Kim McLaughlin runs a private practice in Roseville focused on compulsive eating, which is considered an obsessive relationship with food that can cause uncontrolled eating and guilt.

McLaughlin addresses emotional issues behind overeating and helps clients forge healthy relationships with food. This process involves support from family and friends, who may want to help but don't know how.

"There is so much stigma about compulsive eating, body size and weight issues in our society," McLaughlin said. "Many times family and friends will say, 'Just go on a diet,' thinking they are being helpful. The diet does not cure the compulsive eating and can make it worse."

Therapists can educate the family about the disorder, giving the client more ability to focus on herself, McLaughlin said.

Lombardi overcame her own battle with anorexia 19 years ago, when structured treatment - and insurance coverage - wasn't available. She credits her family and clinician with helping her through the battle.

"I see myself as recovered," she said. "I'm not haunted by numbers or compulsively exercising or any of those things."

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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For more information about the Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program center in Roseville, call (916) 574-1000 or visit www.sedop.org.

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Signs of an eating disorder:

  • Major pre-occupation with restricting intake of foods or eliminating categories of food
  • Suspicious behavior right after eating a meal
  • Regularly takes laxatives
  • Compulsive exercising

What to do:

  • Be direct and honest
  • Express concerns as observations: "You're losing a lot of weight in a short period of time."
  • Recognize the person may deny a problem or get defensive
  • Ask the person to get assessed for free by a professional

Source: Jennifer Lombardi, Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program