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With eating disorders, there's hope and help

February 27, 2012

At Teen Xpress, we see our fair share of adolescent drama and trauma. Our program, housed at the Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families, works to provide adolescents with medical care, counseling, and case management. Our mission is to focus on students that do not have adequate insurance or do not have insurance at all.

Teen Xpress is very real. We do not wait for the teens to come to us, we go to where they are. We provide our care at our patient’s schools. We go into their homes and meet with them and their families on their turf, in their neighborhoods. A result of this comprehensive care is that the teens that we see often really open up. Many have said that we become like family to them. We are there to hear about their relationship problems. We provide them with their physicals, and for some, treat their asthma or their obesity. I work with them to talk through feelings of depression, stress, self-esteem, or family issues. We have seen patients survive abuse and homelessness. All that being said, one of the most difficult issues that we have seen is that of a teen with an active eating disorder.

Eating disorders are complicated. They can take form in different ways. There are bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating. There are varied levels to those disorders. Eating disorders are frightening. There is something very scary about watching someone, especially a young teen, be offered food and refuse to eat it. The situation can cause those around them to feel hopeless and powerless.

However, with treatment, people struggling with these disorders can prevail. About a year ago, a student came to see our medical provider, asking for a physical so that she could join the cheerleading squad. Our provider has a knack for getting physicals completed while carefully asking delicate questions to ensure that the teen is safe, happy, and getting his or her basic needs met. Through the course of the appointment, this student revealed some patterns of disordered eating, as well as her own perceptions of being “fat”. This student barely weighed 100 pounds.

Our provider quickly linked this student to our dietician, whose passion for helping our teens shines through with every interaction she has with them. She began meeting with this patient weekly. Our dietician provided this student emotional support, empathy, and education regarding eating disorders, healthy habits and self-care. She was able to really connect with this student and build trust with her. After spending several meetings with this patient, our dietician began to learn of the student’s past and history. Poor family relationships, horrific past traumas and abuse, and lack of support were shared. Our dietician recognized this student’s need for extra emotional support and routed her to counseling.

This young girl was able to receive all the tenets of treatment that are recommended for people struggling with eating disorders: medical care, meetings with a dietician, and counseling. This student has begun to show true progress including stability with her weight, changes in eating and exercise habits, and increased communication with her family.

It is said that people that engage in disordered eating are typically trying to exert some sense of control. Often, people with eating disorders report that their lives are out of control, and that restricting or limiting their food intake, or choosing to purge after eating gives them a sense of being in charge of something. A challenge with eating disorders is that the behavior can become addictive and people can find themselves caught up in a cycle of unhealthy and often, dangerous behaviors.

Treating an eating disorder is much like treating an addiction. The person must want to change for treatment to work. Treatment requires changes in just about every area of their lives, from what and when and how they eat, to acceptable exercising, to finding self-love and acceptance. It is a challenging road, but one with much promise and hope. People struggling with disordered eating need support, encouragement, education, and access to treatment services.

If someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, here are some links to more information:

National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)

Something Fishy: A Website on Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc.

Get involved locally with Eating Disorders Network Florida ( and register for 2012 NEDA Walk Orlando (March 3rd)