Finding a solution for eating disorders

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the last in a weeklong series that examines eating disorders at the University.

Correction: A page 1 article, âÄúFinding a solution for eating disorders,âÄù in FridayâÄôs Daily said 50 percent of the STAR CenterâÄôs patients donâÄôt have eating disorders. Those 50 percent are bothered by the thought of food. This is considered an eating disorder not otherwise specified, which is just as serious as anorexia or bulimia, center director Kerri Boutelle said.

As a health advocate, first-year nutrition student Ashley Sjostrand is a resource for many Territorial Hall residents.

Although health advocates are not trained to specifically deal with eating disorders, Sjostrand said she helped a fellow high school gymnast who was bulimic.

“She wouldn’t really listen,” she said. “(People with eating disorders) don’t see the negative effects; they only see one thing.”

While many people dealing with eating disorders suffer silently, many University and area experts help students.

Dave Dorman, a health educator at Boynton Health Service, said students could go talk to an advocate either about themselves or someone they know to find resources.

“Eating disorders are so complex we just really don’t do much with it,” he said. “We try to figure out who would be at risk and get them in to Boynton.”

Although campus doctors don’t treat eating disorders, the Boynton staff can help some students with their eating issues.

Boynton nutritionist Pat Snyder said it is her job to help students fix their eating habits.

One of the first steps when working with a student is to find out about their eating habits and history, she said.

“It’s not just taking them in and giving them a diet,” Snyder said. “It’s taking what they’re already eating and then helping them modify that.”

Eating problems often stem from the students’ choices in residence halls, houses and apartments, she said.

“The problem (in the residence halls) is that kids can take whatever they want,” she said.

When students move out of the residence halls, they often struggle to shop for and prepare food by themselves.

“They don’t know what to do, so we talk through different ways of doing things,” she said. “It’s all set up to talk about their needs and what they’re concerned about.”

Students do not always start at the nutritionist, Snyder said. Mental health doctors often refer students who have eating problems, she said.

Boynton offers a bulimia support group for students in a “stable medical condition.”

Each group lasts for eight weeks, sometimes more, and participants must be “free from behaviors that interfere in activities of daily life,” according to the Boynton Web site.

Finding the answers

The University doesn’t have inpatient care, but there are places in the area to help students find treatment programs for eating disorders, such as the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, said Jennifer Amundson, a media relations consultant for the hospital.

“We do not treat eating disorders on an inpatient or outpatient basis,” she said.

But, Amundson said the hospital will not “turn patients away.”

She said the hospital always treats someone for mental health issues associated with the eating disorder.

Boynton frequently refers students to the Services for Teenagers at Risk Center located in the McNamara Alumni Center, which helps approximately 30 to 60 University students a year deal with the psychological, medical, nutritional and family therapy portion of an eating disorder, said center Director Kerri Boutelle.

Not all people who go to the STAR Center have eating disorders, she said.

About half of the eating disorder patients go because they are bothered by the thought of food, Boutelle said.

These patients aren’t at a low enough weight or they may not be purging enough to meet the clinical requirements of an eating disorder, she said. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, weight is a factor in the diagnosis of anorexia. A person needs to be at least 15 percent below their recommended weight, based on their body mass index, to receive a formal diagnosis, Boutelle said.

If a patient is deemed “unstable,’ they are referred to the Eating Disorder Institute at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, which is the only inpatient eating disorder clinic in the Twin Cities area, Boutelle said.

Methodist offers an inpatient program and outpatient support groups, said Director of Operations Carol Tappen.

“We offer a full continuum of treatment,” she said. “We’re the only program that has every single level of care.”

Although patients do not necessarily need to start with the inpatient treatment, the first step for those who are medically unstable is a 21-day hospitalization.

After the initial hospitalization, the patient would move into the partial five-week hospitalization program, which offers treatment eight hours a day for 20 days.

Patients move into an intensive outpatient program that treats patients for two to three nights per week for another five weeks, Tappen said.

Patients often struggle when they leave the more intense treatment programs, she said.

Tappen said the hospital uses a method of “weaning the patient off of treatment” to prevent a relapse.

“It’s like a re-entry into life,” she said.

Another inpatient treatment center is the Anna Westin House in Chaska, which is a residential treatment facility the Anna Westin Foundation and Methodist Hospital partnered to create.

For a person to get accepted into the eight-bed facility, they need to first go through Methodist’s program, because the house is meant for patients who need further treatment.

Kitty Westin, the president of the Anna Westin Foundation, said she opened the facility in 2002 because her daughter died in 2000 as a result of her battle with anorexia. Her daughter, Anna, was part of a certain group of patients who need long-term treatment.

There’s always HOPE

There are many treatment programs that offer help to families, but the Health Options for Personal Education Network, Inc., is there to coach families through an eating disorder.

HOPE founder Becky Henry said it’s often difficult for a family to find ways to help with the eating disorder treatment process.

“For some reason, with eating disorders especially, the parents have been blamed,” Henry said.

Although many specialists don’t do it intentionally, they can often give parents the impression they are preventing their child from getting better.

“Their attitude can give you the impression that you’ve done enough damage already,” she said.

Henry started the HOPE Network five years ago when her 16-year-old daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder.

“There was no information for parents,” she said. “We didn’t want to do the wrong things.”

Henry, a certified professional co-active coach, offers a list of treatment resources. She sometimes coaches people with eating disorders, but she usually helps their families.

At HOPE, Henry teaches parents how to keep themselves healthy and let go of their child’s eating disorder.

“This is really something their child has to choose for themselves,” she said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do about it, but you can choose how to react.”

Henry said parents are usually scared about helping their child be successful in overcoming the disorder.

“It’s such a reflex for parents; if a knee gets scraped, you fix it,” she said. “This is something you can’t fix.”