The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - DONNA DE LA CRUZ

The movie “To the Bone” de­picts the life of a young woman strug­gling with an eat­ing dis­or­der and has sparked much con­ver­sa­tion about an ill­ness that af­fects one in 10 Amer­i­cans at some point in their lives. Now, an eat­ing dis­or­der app could help the two-thirds of peo­ple with eat­ing dis­or­ders who never re­ceive treat­ment due to stigma, lack of health in­surance or lack of re­sources, said Claire Mysko, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Na­tional Eat­ing Dis­or­ders As­so­ci­a­tion (NEDA).

“The app makes it easy for peo­ple to get help in the mo­ment they rec­og­nize that they need it,” Mysko said. “We want them to con­nect for help im­me­di­ately, and this pro­vides them with a sim­ple way to do that.”

The Re­cov­ery Record app al­lows users to log meals, an­swer ques­tions de­vel­oped by clin­i­cians and con­nect to pro­fes­sional help. It also of­fers an eight-week pro­gram aimed at re­cov­ery. Launched in Fe­bru­ary as a part­ner­ship be­tween NEDA and the mo­bile men­tal health plat­form Re­cov­ery Record, it has al­ready led to 50,000 views of NEDA’s helpline, Mysko said. It was de­vel­oped with Stan­ford Univer­sity and the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Men­tal Health, which pro­vided a $1.2 mil­lion grant.

But the app can­not re­place in-per­son treat­ment, said Jenna Tre­garthen, co-founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Re­cov­ery Record.

“It is of­ten years be­fore peo­ple tell some­one about their silent battle with eat­ing dis­or­ders,” said Tre­garthen, whose own sis­ter kept her eat­ing dis­or­der from her fam­ily for three years. “With more than 80 per cent of Amer­i­cans now own­ing smart­phones, we have an op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide im­me­di­ate, pri­vate and ev­i­dence-based sup­port. And we hope the app will break down bar­ri­ers and em­power more peo­ple to speak up and reach out as a re­sult.”

Re­becca Bl­itzer, a cer­ti­fied eat­ing dis­or­der di­eti­tian in Green­belt, Mary­land, also noted ben­e­fits from the app but echoed the im­por­tance of in-per­son coun­selling.

“My con­cern is not only that the per­son strug­gling with an eat­ing dis­or­der would stop us­ing the app; it is that the per­son may not re­al­ize the im­por­tance of hav­ing an en­tire team in place to foster eat­ing dis­or­der re­cov­ery,” Bl­itzer said.

“I am also con­cerned that us­ing the app in­stead of get­ting a pro­fes­sional eval­u­a­tion may make it easy for some peo­ple to stay in de­nial about the psy­cho­log­i­cal and med­i­cal sever­ity of the eat­ing dis­or­der.”

Lindsey Hall, who writes about strug­gling with her eat­ing dis­or­der on her blog I Haven’t Shaved in Six Weeks, said the app would be most use­ful to peo­ple on the cusp of com­ing to grips with their ill­ness.

“The app has so much in­for­ma­tion, which is a great thing for any­one who is at the be­gin­ning of their re­cov­ery process,” she said. “It’s ex­actly like hav­ing a coun­sel­lor sit­ting right there with you when you need help. This did not ex­ist when I first came to terms with my eat­ing dis­or­der, and I wish it had.

“But I think the app gets less use­ful the fur­ther down the road you get into your re­cov­ery,” Hall added. “Al­though I’ll for­ever be strug­gling with my eat­ing dis­or­der, learn­ing how to live in the mo­ment and not be ob­sessed with log­ging in ev­ery meal along with your feel­ings, that’s also part of your re­cov­ery.”

Liana Rosen­man and Kristina Saf­fran, co­founders of Project Heal, a non­profit that raises money to help peo­ple with eat­ing dis­or­ders af­ford treat­ment, say the app can be a life­line for peo­ple who can’t ac­cess treat­ment be­cause of cost and lack of re­sources due to ge­o­graph­i­cal rea­sons.

“We get about 500 ap­pli­ca­tions a year for funds. An app like this can be very ben­e­fi­cial to pro­vide help,” Saf­fran said.

Ac­cord­ing to NEDA, treat­ment for an eat­ing dis­or­der can be very ex­pen­sive, rang­ing from $50 to $500 per ses­sion depend­ing on fac­tors like geo­graphic lo­ca­tion and the provider’s ex­per­tise. In-pa­tient cen­ters can cost up to $1,000 per day.

Hall said she was lucky to have par­ents who were will­ing to pay for her to stay at a res­i­dent treat­ment centre but said she saw peo­ple come there and leave days later once their in­surance cov­er­age ran out.

“That’s not enough time to even come close to fix­ing the men­tal as­pects that come with an eat­ing dis­or­der,” Hall said.

Many in­surance com­pa­nies won’t cover any treat­ment, said Michelle Lup­kin, at­tend­ing psy­chol­o­gist at Mon­te­fiore Med­i­cal Cen­ter/Al­bert Ein­stein Col­lege of Medicine in New York City, who launched the Eat­ing Dis­or­ders Pro­gram at Mon­te­fiore in 2016. If in­surance com­pa­nies do cover some treat­ment, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to find any­one well­trained to treat eat­ing dis­or­ders, she added.

“Anorexia ner­vosa is the most fa­tal of psy­chi­atric ill­nesses,” Lup­kin said. “So I think the app is a great way to get started. But eat­ing dis­or­ders are re­ally se­ri­ous so we will have to wait and see how ef­fec­tive the app is in help­ing peo­ple reach out for help.”

The app makes it easy for peo­ple to get help in the mo­ment they rec­og­nize that they need it.


Lily Collins stars as Ellen, a young woman liv­ing with an eat­ing dis­or­der, in "To the Bone," a film that has sparked much con­ver­sa­tion about the ill­ness.

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