Therapist Melissa Koch stands before a crowd of young college students, ready to begin her presentation on eating disorders. Some remain blissfully unaware that 30 million people in the United States will struggle with an eating disorder in their lifetime, while some know this struggle all too well.
Social media makes it incredibly easy to compare extreme standards of health and beauty on basically any platform. Misinformation and extreme dieting trends spread like wildfire, which plunges people deep into a rabbit hole of self-deprecation.
"I think the biggest stigma is that you have to be in a smaller body to have an eating disorder," Koch says. "In reality, a person's body could be of any size and still be suffering from a life-threating eating disorder."
Anyone can be at risk of developing an eating disorder and recovery is a difficult and long journey.
Koch works for a company called Alsana, an eating disorder treatment center that aids people in their recovery.
"Each patient is different. What we usually see is a client admitting to our residential program where they attend groups all day, see their therapist 3 times a week, and their dietitian 2 times a week. Clients live at residential and are monitored 24 hours a day. They are typically there 4 weeks," Koch says.
After this period, patients continue sessions on a less frequent basis and are given the opportunity to live off-site. They practice grocery shopping and preparing meals for themselves with help from the staff.
"The hardest part of my job is when clients are first admitted because their cognition is not there due to lack of nutrition," Koch says. "They tend to have difficulty with emotions and when they are expected not to engage in their eating disorder, their emotions come out big."
Creating a cohesive community where feelings can openly be expressed is no easy feat, but in the end, the journey is worth it to see people rehabilitated from the constraints that once confined them.
"The most rewarding part is seeing clients grow into their own person," Koch says. "A lot of our clients come in not knowing who they are or where they want to go in life. The therapy work they do is really transformative."
The key to helping someone going through an eating disorder is empathy. Far too often people keep their struggles hidden, but it's our job to provide compassion towards others as we would want if the roles were reversed.
"A lot of times there is shame around eating disorders so being with someone and saying it's hard even if you can't understand will be much more powerful than trying to fix it," Koch says. "Providing empathy first, followed by expressing concern, and then saying you'll be there with them when it gets hard in treatment. Because it will."
Providing support for the people in your life, through the good and bad, just might begin their own journey to recovery.
For more information please visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/