UB alum stresses importance of seeking treatment for eating disorders
Thirty million Americans suffer from an eating disorder but only one in 10 will receive proper treatment, according to Glamour Magazine.
Sixty UB students were treated for eating disorders this year at UB's Student Health and Wellness Center. Allie F, a UB alumna, said it pains her to think of how many girls she knew in college who struggled with eating disorders and never asked for help.
She urges anybody who is suffering now to reach out and get help immediately. She said UB has a lot of resources available for eating disorder recovery.
When Allie reached out to Counseling Services for help, she was paired with Carissa Uschold.
Uschold was the driving force that helped jumpstart Allie's journey toward recovery. Uschold's professional background and passion for working with eating disorders made her a good candidate for helping Allie.
Uschold has been interested in working with eating disorders since early in her high school career, she said. After transferring from a city to suburban high school, she became aware of body image and eating disorder concerns and pressures faced by girls and women around her. So she focused her graduate studies on eating disorders and worked at a community mental health agency, running its outpatient eating disorder program.
"When someone is struggling with an eating disorder, they are often consumed by the negative eating disordered thoughts and emotions throughout each day," Uschold said. "This is all occurring while they are fighting hard to survive and in many cases continue to go to school, work and navigate the relationships in their lives."
Uschold was able to figuratively get into Allie's head and understand where she was coming from. She showed Allie that her disorder was not actually her own fault - which is what Allie said she might be most thankful for now.
Uschold helped Allie's self-esteem.
"We also have been accustomed to relating self-worth to how we look rather than who we are or what we accomplish," Uschold said. "When someone is struggling, they also have to manage the people in their life who may not understand the pathology of the eating disorder. Often, people will say to 'just eat.' It is so much more complicated than that."
So a multi-disciplinary approach must be taken when it comes to working with eating disorders.
UB's eating disorders treatment team utilizes individual and group therapy, nutritional counseling, medical management and psychiatric services.
The cost of treatment for an eating disorder in the United States ranges from $500 to $2,800 per day, according to Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers. Mirasol also reports the average cost for a month of inpatient treatment is $30,000 and individuals with eating disorders typically need three to six months of inpatient care.
UB offers these services for free, except for a standard Michael Hall co-payment. Free treatment is nearly impossible to find, according to Allie. She said students struggling should immediately seek help while they're at UB.
Allie began her treatment by seeing the nutritionist on campus and had appointments with the doctors at Michael Hall "to gauge how badly [she had] f***** up [her] body," she said. She also participated in group therapy with other girls on campus who were struggling with similar issues.
"I think this was especially meaningful for me because my eating disorder made me feel so alone all of the time, even when I was with my closest friends," Allie said. "And being in a group with these girls proved to me that I wasn't alone and, in fact, had my own group of cheerleaders who understood and were with me on the journey to get better."
She said every girl in her group looked like a "regular girl" she might see around campus any given day. It made her realize you never know who has an eating disorder - it can be anyone, regardless of what someone looks like, which is both tragic and a reminder that those struggling are not as alone as they may think, she said.
Through one-on-one therapy sessions with Uschold, Allie learned eating disorders run a lot deeper than food and weight.
"Eating disorders are hard to talk about eloquently because from the outside, you can't understand it, and from the inside, you can't explain it," Allie said. "Most people don't realize eating disorders are a lot more complicated than just not being able to let yourself eat a cookie, so the goal of recovery and the wellness team is to build you back up from the inside out. You can't fix your relationship with food until you fix your relationship with yourself."
Since seeking help from UB's counseling center, Allie has been fixing her relationship with herself as well as with food.
Uschold said when she works with her clients, they discuss the need for balance between the negative voice of the eating disorder and their own voice of health or reason. She said she provides "psychoeducation" surrounding eating disorder symptoms, including effective ways to cope and find support. She said it is a "feminist approach to treatment that integrates holistic health practices with a person-centered approach."
Uschold believes with treatment in place, it is possible for someone to work toward recovery. As long as a person is alive, there is always hope and help available, she said.
"So no matter how much the eating disorder screams against it, if there is even one cell in your body that wants to ask for help, listen to it," Allie said. "And then fight for recovery like your life depends on it - because it does."