It’s estimated that at least 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder.
These disorders affect both men and women, are the third most common chronic disease in young people, and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness -- every 62 minutes, someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder.
“And on top of all that, the culture around us promotes these kinds of behaviors,” says Kati Mora, CEO of Around the Plate, a nutritional therapy provider based in Mt. Pleasant. She is also one of the founders of the Mid-Michigan Eating Disorder Recovery Alliance, or MMEDRA.
Mora says that changing the cultural conversation around beauty, self-image, and health requires changing the way people think.
Health, not weight
“We are very focused on ways to get people thinking about being healthy instead of thinking about losing weight. Those two things are so intertwined in our culture that it’s difficult for most people to see that they’re different - there is so much value being placed on controlling your body to a certain size.”
She says that many people step on a scale to evaluate their health, and besides not being an accurate measure of what’s going on inside their bodies, this weight-centric way of thinking can result in unintended consequences.
“95% of individuals dieting for weight loss will gain the weight back they lost in five years, and 66% are going to gain the weight back and then some. This weight cycling leads to negative health consequences as it can trigger eating disorders and increase feelings of guilt and shame when around food.”
Because food is such a central part of a person’s day, that guilt and shame can lead to depression, anxiety, and poor self-image. But Mora says that when someone shifts their thinking into how to be healthier instead of simply losing weight, they don’t run the same risk of experiencing negative consequences.
“We don’t see the same guilt and shame being associated with food, and we don’t see the weight cycling. They begin to understand that nutrition isn’t a weapon: it’s a tool that should be used to enhance one’s life.”
She says that Around the Plate helps people create health-focused habits like developing healthy meal plans alongside strategies to combat negative and self-destructive behaviors.
Part of the challenge for Mora and her team at Around the Plate is that the word “diet” and “dietician” have a negative connotation, carrying with them images of stubborn body fat, terrible food, and starvation.
“It’s just the way we’ve talked about food for a long time, and it’s ingrained into who we are. But I want people to feel confident and find joy in their meals. I want people to spend energy on things that that that bring them fulfillment and take a look back at and say this was a life well lived. Sometimes I think food can be a hindrance to that. Instead, it really should be something that just empowers you to be able to live a beautiful life.”
One of the things that makes Around the Plate different than other nutrition specialists is their work in helping people struggling with eating disorders while connecting them with therapists and doctors who are able to help them, too.
“If I’m working with someone for the first time and I do an initial assessment, I’m going to ask them who is on their team. Do they have a therapist? Do they have a physician? And if they don’t, I’m able to connect them with people who I know are the best of the best. We try to tell people struggling with mental illness that they don’t have to face it alone, they have support. We want to show them that there are other people willing to fight alongside them.”
Seeing how important it was for her clients to receive help on multiple fronts, Mora sought to create a network of healthcare providers across Mid-Michigan in order to provide more education, resources, and treatment than her private practice could offer.
Kati Mora says health depends on changing the way people think about body size
Creating an alliance of care
To provide even more connections and support to people needing help, Mora partnered with five other area women to form the Mid-Michigan Eating Disorder Recovery Alliance. The mission of the alliance is to ensure eating disorder prevention, assessment, education, resources, and treatment are available to anyone who needs it within Mid-Michigan.
Mora and the other women of MMEDRA saw a need to coordinate the efforts of professionals in different fields in order to most effectively help people struggling with eating disorders. Lisa Carpenter, the Lead Therapist at Center of Hope Counseling in Mt. Pleasant and one of the founders of MMEDRA, says that the complexity of eating disorders requires this team-based approach.
“Eating disorders are like a perfect storm. It typically involves someone who has trauma, who is susceptible to addiction, and who has another diagnosis like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, so it needs a three-prong approach that addresses the nutritional, psychological, and medical aspects of the disorder. It needs a treatment team.”
Mora and Carpenter wanted to form a team of qualified professionals that could easily refer clients to one another, making high quality therapy, resources, and care easier to access for people who need help.
Connecting people with providers capable of a high level of care is important to the foundation of MMEDRA, and despite already being professionals in their fields, the women continue to undergo additional training to learn more about treating eating disorders.
Lisa Carpenter, M.A., L.P.C., says MMEDRA's partnership of health professionals helps bring better care to more people
Carpenter says that she doesn’t want the connections currently being provided by MMEDRA to stop at therapists, nutritionists, and doctors.
“I would love for MMEDRA to eventually offer a mentorship program, where someone late in recovery can offer help and support to someone early in recovery. It would help show that recovery is possible.”
While it might seem counterintuitive to team up with other psychologists, health coaches, and dieticians in the same area, she says that creating an alliance of care providers allows them to help more people, more effectively and that’s the primary goal.
“I think MMEDRA is very cool in the fact that we’re not competing as businesses. We’re coming together to work as a team for a cause. It’s a group of awesome women who are qualified, passionate, and compassionate who want to bring awareness to the prevalence of eating disorders while also being a resource of information and connect people with treatment.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can contact MMEDRA or one of its care providers via the links below:
Mid-Michigan Eating Disorder Recovery Alliance - http://mmedra.com/
Around the Plate - http://aroundtheplate.org/
Partners in Change - http://www.psychologistsmidland.com/
Self Love Beauty - www.selflovebeauty.com
JLK Counseling - https://www.jlk-counseling.com/
Center of Hope Counseling - https://www.centerofhopemtp.com/