Eating disorders are real, complicated medical and psychiatric challenges that can have serious consequences for health, productivity and relationships. We recently had the honor of sitting with Amy Sullivan, a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate in Texas. Amy works at The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness as their Southern Smash Coordinator & Referral Specialist The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness is the leading national non-profit organization dedicated to the outreach, education, early intervention, support, and advocacy for all eating disorders.
After recovering from her own eating disorder, r, Amy now has the privilege of walking alongside others on their journey to recovery. In her role at The Alliance, Amy provides free referrals for all levels of specialized care, while also bringing innovative programs to college campuses nationwide.
Read on to hear Amy’s perspectives on the subject.
Mooditude: Over 30 million Americans will be diagnosed with an eating disorder in their lifetime, yet it seems like the public narrative is missing. What do you feel is the most misunderstood assumption about eating disorders?
Amy: I believe the most misunderstood assumption about eating disorders is that you can tell if someone has an eating disorder simply by looking at them, or that they only affect a certain “type” of person. The truth is, the majority of individuals struggling with an eating disorder are not underweight like the media so often portrays. It is not an illness you can see. Along with that, every eating disorder can occur at every body size! Eating disorders can affect anyone - regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, ability, or body shape and size. Also, significant barriers to care exist, often leaving individuals without access to specialized care. A lack of specialized providers, prohibitively high treatment costs, social stigma, and other barriers interfere, and thus, only 1 in 3 individuals is able to access the care they deserve.
Mooditude: What needs to happen in order to shift public awareness to understanding eating disorders as medical and psychological concerns?
Amy: Awareness! Like many conditions, eating disorders are biopsychosocial illnesses caused by a variety of factors. No one chooses to have an eating disorder just like no one chooses to have cancer. Clinicians and physicians, as well as the public, need to also understand that eating disorders cause serious medical concerns, even when the individual is not underweight. Beyond that, people need to know that full recovery is possible. Here at The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness (The Alliance), we provide education to physicians, clinicians, and other community healthcare workers so they are able to appropriately refer patients to specialized care. The Alliance also engages in work with folks like Demi Lovato and Jameela Jamil to destigmatize eating disorders.
Mooditude: Accepting that you are struggling with an eating disorder is an act of courage. What is the next step for someone who wants help?
Amy: Asking for help is the bravest thing in the world! A great first step is to find an eating disorder-specialized therapist who can begin working with you and determine if a higher level of care is needed. The Alliance is always happy to help connect people with support in their area! You can call The Alliance for free referrals for all levels of care and speak with one of our licensed clinicians, or you can go to www.findEDhelp.com and find specialized clinicians in your area.
Mooditude: What does the journey of eating disorder recovery entail?
Amy: The journey of recovery is full of a lot of ups and downs; it’s not linear! Sometimes it feels like one step forward, one step backward. Typically, recovery involves a treatment team made up of a therapist, dietitian, psychiatrist, and medical doctor who are all specialized in the treatment of eating disorders. One of the most important pieces of advice is to not try and make recovery fit into a certain timeframe. Healing isn’t something that happens overnight. Even if the process feels slow, don’t lose hope!
Mooditude: Eating disorders don’t discriminate and happen to those who are also undergoing financial hardships. Can you share some treatment options that are low cost or free?
Amy: Absolutely! I think one common misconception is that eating disorders happen to those that come from financially well-off families, but eating disorders do not discriminate! The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness offers free, weekly, therapist-led support groups (both virtually and in-person [in non-COVID times]) for individuals (ages 18+) experiencing eating disorders, as well as their loved ones. The Alliance can also help connect individuals with clinicians in their area who may offer sliding scale options.
Mooditude: The Alliance for EDA is a hub for education, outreach and support for eating disorders. What resources does The Alliance offer to those in recovery?
Amy: The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness offers resources not only across the country, but around the globe for those experiencing an eating disorder as well as their loved ones and clinicians. The Alliance offers free, weekly, therapist-led support groups (both virtually and in-person [in non-COVID times]) for those struggling with eating disorders, as well as their loved ones. Support groups are a great way to receive support and be in a community of people who understand what you are going through. We also offer free referrals to all levels of care. Individuals can call 866-662-1235 and speak to one of our licensed clinicians that will help you find treatment options in your area. We also offer free and low-cost training to clinicians and medical providers so that they can better support those who are recovering. Lastly, The Alliance engages local communities in a variety of ways, whether it be through our innovative Southern Smash scale-smashing programs or through our advocacy on mental health legislation.
Mooditude: We all want to help our loved ones when we feel they are struggling. How can we approach and support them in a way that maintains their dignity and autonomy?
Amy: Let them know that you care and you want to support them. When approaching them, please do not comment on weight, body size, or eating habits - even if you are well-meaning. That’s often our first go-to, but most of the time that will just fuel the eating disorder. Ask them how you can best support them. Don’t be surprised if your loved one is resistant to getting help. Sometimes offering to sit with them while they call a therapist or even going with them to their first appointment may be a way to encourage them to seek out support.
Mooditude: The Alliance has a virtual support group event coming up in August, can you tell us who this is for and how we can participate?
Amy: Our NOT ONE MORE Support Group “Half” Marathon on August 21st will offer virtual groups for individuals (ages 18+) who are experiencing an eating disorder, as well as their loved ones! We will have groups focusing on a wide variety of topics such as ‘Living a Life Beyond Eating Disorders,’ a group specifically for parents, as well as one for partners/spouses of those experiencing an eating disorder. We will end the evening with stories of recovery from our support group facilitators, which is a group that is open to everyone and a beautiful ray of hope during these difficult times. It is free to attend and people can sign up here: https://www.notonemore.co/
Mooditude: The work that The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness is pivotal in providing guidance to those in recovery and their loved ones. How can we support The Alliance in spreading awareness?
Amy: First of all, follow us on social media so that you can stay up to date on everything we are working on! Secondly, if you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help. The Alliance relies on donations from supporters to continue serving our community. Please consider supporting our work, only if you are able, by visiting http://www.allianceforeatingdisorders.com/donate.