Eating Disorders: Learn the Signs, Get Help Early
Although her memory of the time is foggy, Steph Klemann recalls a time when she was so malnourished due to anorexia nervosa and bulimia, she had trouble answering basic questions. “I’d start a sentence and then just trail off.”
Her eating disorders became so severe that she needed hospitalization. Yet now, at age 30, Steph is proud to say she has recovered with the help of therapy and support from family and friends. She is among an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men who have an eating disorder some time in their life.
Know the Signs
An eating disorder can manifest in several ways but often has underlying factors such as depression or anxiety — making the treatment approach multidimensional, explained Mary Dressing, LPC-MH, RD, LN, a registered dietitian and mental health counselor with Avera Medical Group Internal Medicine Women’s.
Common diagnoses include:
- Anorexia nervosa: severe diet restrictions and weight loss, over-exercising
- Bulimia nervosa: binge eating and purging
- Binge eating: eating large amounts of food without compensating for over-eating
Dressing specializes in treating eating disorders and provides educational talks in the community to help loved ones recognize the signs before a person becomes fully enmeshed.
“Early intervention and prevention are so much more beneficial than waiting until the disease progresses,” Dressing said. “Treatment lasts three to seven years, on average, and for some people, recovery is a lifelong process.”
Common signs of an eating disorder may include withdrawing from people, becoming extremely picky with foods, avoiding eating around others, obsessing over weight and frequently heading to the restroom after meals.
Steph, who lives in Sioux Falls and works as a licensed social worker and caseworker, sought inpatient treatment for her eating disorder at age 21 when her therapist and family decided that she needed more help than an outpatient program could provide.
She spent one month in inpatient treatment and four more in a residential living center, before returning to outpatient therapy with Dressing, whom she began seeing at age 18.
Steph recalls withdrawing from her friends, severely restricting her eating and exercising excessively.
“Your life is just all about your eating disorder,” she said. “Every action I did revolved around food — exercising and doing things to compensate if I did eat or figuring out ways how to not eat.”
Eating disorders are often a form of control, so Steph had to effectively retrain her brain.
“Once people develop an eating disorder it’s very difficult to solve this on their own,” Dressing said. “It’s so overwhelming. Their thoughts become so distorted.”
As a dietitian, Dressing created a meal plan for Steph and helped her develop correct thinking around food. For example, someone with an eating disorder might think by eating a bowl of ice cream, she or he will gain five pounds. Dressing works to correct that misinformation by focusing on the facts — how many calories are in a bowl of ice cream versus the calories it takes to put on a pound of body fat.
Beyond retraining thoughts, Dressing also teaches coping mechanisms and works on other related issues whether it might be depression or anxiety.
Thankfully, Steph didn’t suffer any long-lasting health effects, which can often include infertility, osteoporosis and heart problems. Married and with a son, she is working to help others by organizing a local support group — a registered group of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
“I want to be there for others to say, ‘I’ve been there. You can get to this side. I’ve been there and I made it to this side,’” Steph said.
ANAD Eating Disorder Support Group
Third Thursday of the month, 7 p.m.
Caille Branch Library, 4100 S. Carnegie Circle