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Published on February 28, 2019

Jennifer Dumke

Eating Disorders Awareness: Unfriending and Florida

By Jennifer Dumke, Marketing Specialist, Avera McKennan Foundation

She was my best friend, favorite coworker and even one of my most cherished family members. She was always with me and could make me feel better. In control. That’s why I liked her so much. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that she could kill me.

But I didn’t realize that part until it was almost too late.

You may be asking yourself why I let something like this in my life. The truth is, I didn’t. More than 30 million people of all ages and genders are affected by eating disorders. Navigating through life with an eating disorder feels like you are in cahoots with a powerful being that is always smarter than you, more convincing and very judgmental. The love/hate relationship is something most eating disorder sufferers describe as a second person tagging alongside them.

Getting Help from Experts

Mary Dressing, LN, LPC-MH, RD at Avera Medical Group Internal Medicine Women’s, specializes in treating individuals with eating disorders along with group/individual counseling, nutrition and weight control.

"Eating disorders are not a choice," she adds. "They often begin very innocently perhaps with a diet or 'eating cleaner'. For some, this is the beginning of a very dangerous road. Eating can become distorted and evolve into a full blow disorder. When this happens, the individual’s life, body, food and self all become compromised."

For me, it was about control – even though I knew having an eating disorder was a serious and fatal condition that overall would impact my health, emotions and the ability to function in everyday life tasks. The complexity of the disease is that it comes in many forms. The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorders. Yes, my best friend also had friends. But I always fell back on my one tried and true form which was restricting.

Drastic Changes in Appearance

Like most severe and long-lasting disorders, my physical appearance began to change dramatically. Once you get on the roller coaster, it’s hard to get off. The overwhelming feeling of accomplishment through control over your body takes over like an infection and getting help can be daunting. I eventually ended up in an inpatient treatment facility, which got me out of the "danger zone" and loaded me up with tools. But actually following them was a different story. To aid in my outpatient treatment, I began to see a local therapist who served as both a counselor and registered dietitian.

But unlike other addictions, people need food to live. So the concept of "quitting" cannot be applied. After months of sessions, I still found myself struggling but knew my health was critical. "More people die from an eating disorder than from any other psychiatric illness. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness," Dressing added.

Leaving Things in Florida

Then fate finally stepped in. Our family vacation to Florida. Most everyone knows having an eating disorder is difficult. But traveling with an eating disorder is horrible. But I continued to lug the extra baggage around and somehow survived the week: dashing family meals, going for long walks, you name it. By the end of the trip I was exhausted, mentally and physically.

It was at that point I decided to leave my friend in Florida. Ah, the plane ride back was so freeing. No carry-on baggage for me! Yes, I will take some almonds. And I’ll have a soda – a regular soda full of sugar. After my initial indulgence, the guilt took over and it felt like someone was pouring a bucket of warm water over my head. But I dug deep and found the strength to tell myself my body needed the nourishment.

Upon returning home, I picked up where I left off with my counseling and slowly started to gain strength … in more ways than one. There is hope for those that suffer from this life-threatening disease. "Often times it will require a team to help the individual reclaim their life again. Treatment varies from person to person," says Dressing. I eventually began doing light impact workouts, embraced purchasing a new wardrobe and tried to avoid triggers like full-length mirrors and scales (although most who know me would argue this.)

Today, I continue to travel on the path to recovery but have come to admit that I will never truly be rid of my disorder. Instead, I embrace what I can do – hit the "unfriend" button and avoid Florida.

Live Better. Live Balanced. Avera.

Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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