Avera Medical Minute AMcK: Life after an eating disorder; three women’s stories of recovery and hope

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It’s often a hard topic to talk about – eating disorders. Shame and guilt often surround the disease.

It’s estimated 30 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime. It is not a lifestyle choice; it is a mental illness.

To gain more insight about the disease, three women are sharing their stories of hope and recovery. Registered dietitian Mary Dressing with Avera Internal Medicine for Women also joined the conversation. She says it’s common for those with eating disorders to follow so-called ‘rules.’

“The eating disorder has all the control. They’re under the allusion that they have the control and they’re running the show but actually it’s the disease that is, and the disease really tries to make everything isolated and secretive,” said Dressing.

“I would exercise three to four hours a day. I would only eat fruits or vegetables for breakfast and lunch, no snacks. And at night, if I’d exercised what I deemed enough, then I could eat supper,” said Rhonda Van Donge of Sioux Center, Iowa.

“My rule was five bites so it was five carrots, five bites of cottage cheese or something. And if I ate at home, my dad laughs because I don’t make boiled chicken anymore, but that’s all I ate was boiled chicken. I took everything out of it but that was my safety food,” said Tiffany Schaefer of Mitchell.

“I struggled with anorexia, bulimia and exercise addiction -- so it was kind of the perfect storm between excessively exercising, cutting foods out, purging and just out of control in all those behaviors,” said Stephanie Klemann of Sioux Falls.

Asking for and recognizing you may need help is often the hardest first step to recovery.

“Often times in their mind, they’ll develop their safe food list and their forbidden food list. And so challenging their thought process about them, and then giving them some education too about nutrition, and how it impacts the body and how food is intended to nourish the body and the functionality of it. So looking at it as what can food do for me, rather than what it’s doing against me which is what the eating disorder brain wants them to believe in,” said Dressing.

These brave women sought treatment and now are able to fully enjoy life without their eating disorder dictating their every move and thought.

“For me, when I look at people or I talk to people with eating disorders, I just want to shake them and be like if ‘you only knew what was on the other side, you would want to make that step’ because for me, my life was a 360 change,” said Schaefer.

“The voice becomes more of a stranger, whereas before we were the voice. It was us. We were the ones that were hearing it, believing it. Now you’ll hear it and be like that’s crazy, that is not right. And it’s someone totally different and it’s easier just to shake is off and move forward because you know what happiness is and you know what health is,” said Klemann.

“It’s just what your body needs. It’s not, like Mary said, it’s just part of life, it’s not life,” said Van Donge.

And while the road to recovery hasn’t been easy, they all say it’s worth it. They want others to know that they are not alone. Provided with the story are links to supports groups each are involved in.

For more information just call 877-AT-AVERA.