In her mid-twenties, Denise began a pattern of binging and purging to return to her pre-baby weight. Over 15 years, her distorted body image led her to binge and purge up to 20 times a day. In her forties, depression set in and stole Denise’s appetite, causing her bulimia to morph into anorexia. Eventually her family’s concern for her well-being pushed her to seek treatment at Rogers Behavioral Health’s residential Eating Disorder Center in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
“Eating disorders have a way of tricking you,” says Denise. “In my mind, I actually thought my eating disorder was making me a strong person. In reality, it was making me very sick and very weak.” Even while in treatment, Denise wasn’t convinced she had a problem.
“In treatment, there are a fair number of people who aren’t certain they actually need it, or if they even want their eating disorder behaviors to end,” says Brad Smith, MD, medical director of eating disorder services for Rogers Behavioral Health. “Many times, binging, purging or restricting food relieves some of the anxiety in their lives, which can make it difficult to find motivation for change.”
“Similar to self-harm, drugs and alcohol, eating disorder behaviors are not healthy for people, but they become one of the ways, perhaps the only way, they know how to cope,” says Dr. Smith.
At Rogers, beginning the journey toward developing healthier, alternative methods for coping begins with a foundation of nutritional stability. “A healthy meal plan with good nutrition and hydration are pieces of the puzzle that make the rest of treatment work,” says Dr. Smith. “Then we help our patients realize they have the power to manage anxiety without unhealthy eating habits and can exchange them for alternatives, such as respiratory control, deep muscle relaxation exercises and leisure activities.”
Treatment helped Denise discover just how bright life can be, and gave her a renewed appreciation for the little moments. “I didn’t realize how valuable the little moments I was missing out on in life were to me while I was in treatment,” she says. “When I took everything I learned at Rogers and began using it, my life changed. Besides my family, treatment is second on my list of what I’m most thankful for because it gave me my life back. I don’t believe I’d be on this earth if it were not for my time at Rogers.”
Today Denise often returns to the Eating Disorder Center with other alumni to pay it forward. “Our alumni are here to mentor or simply lend an ear to those who are going through the more acute stages of their disorder,” says Dr. Smith. “They offer genuine accounts of their recovery process—discussing the real, challenging obstacles they’ve faced, as well as their triumphs—and give tangible hope.”
Denise was thankful for the opportunity treatment gave her to do some soul searching. “I’m learning to develop my own beliefs, be my own person and take care of myself,” she says. “My new relationship with my children is amazing, and we’re so supportive of each other. We talk openly when we’re having difficult times, and we focus on character, not physical appearances.”
Dr. Smith explains it’s a heartwarming experience when a patient expresses gratitude. “It’s not something we necessarily expect as treatment professionals, but it makes us feel great to know we have helped that person,\” he says.