Eating Disorders Program

The Program  |  Warning Signs  |  Expectations  |  Resources  |  Referrals

Eating Disorders are extreme disturbances in an individual's behavior and feelings related to food, weight and body image.

Most likely to develop in young women during adolescence and young adulthood, today children, preteens, adult women, and men also may develop these problems. They are serious problems with life-threatening consequences.

Eating disorders are affecting increasing numbers or people of all ages.

Preoccupations with food and body image can escalate into a pattern of unhealthy eating behavior that, if left untreated, can lead to the potentially life threatening disorders of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Individuals often seek to control their lives by embracing a destructive regimen of dieting and overeating, bingeing and purging.

At The Institute of Living we believe that early identification and comprehensive treatment increase the possibility of recovery and health restoration, and minimize the suffering of those afflicted and their families. The Institute of Living offers a specialized program for the treatment of eating disorders in adolescents and adults. The Partial Hospital Service is our primary treatment modality, however, inpatient treatment is available on our general psychiatric unit. The initial assessment is provided by an eating disorder specialist. Treatment recommendations are geared toward the individual needs of the patient, to provide comprehensive treatment in the least restrictive environment possible.

Treatment is provided by a dedicated interdisciplinary team of eating disorder specialists in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, nutritional science, nursing, social work, and body image therapy.

If a patient is also struggling with chemical dependency, trauma, or other problems, a shared program can be developed with one of the other Institute of Living treatment programs.

The Program

Anorexia Nervosa 

Characterized by excessive weight loss through self-starvation and sometimes through purging (such as vomiting, laxatives excessive exercise). Symptoms include:

  • Refusal to maintain a normal weight
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Obsessive preoccupation with weight and shape
  • Loss of menstrual periods
  • Distorted body image 

Bulimia Nervosa 

Characterized by cycles of binge-eating followed by purging, usually done in secret. The individual's weight may range from below to above average, so it may be harder to detect. Symptoms include:

  • Repetitive cycles of binging and purging
  • Feeling out of control of food intake
  • Purging after binging via self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, excessive exercise, or starvation
  • Obsessive preoccupation with weight and shape

Other - Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified 

Individuals may present with a mixture of anorexia and bulimic symptoms, but not qualify for the either diagnosis or they may engage in compulsive overeating or binging without purging. They are preoccupied and significantly distressed about their eating habits and may gradually gain weight to the point of obesity.

Many people have both symptoms of anorexia and bulimia. Men also are most likely to lose weight or to purge by excessively exercising.

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Warning Signs

Early Warning Signs

When your loved one

  • Seems obsessed with weight
  • Weighs herself more than once a day
  • Exercises alone, for long periods
  • Eats or refuses food when sad or upset
  • Counts calories or fat grams
  • Avoids eating with others
  • Tries to be perfect, always pleasing others

If many of these are true, get help as a family to work on self-esteem, and emotional expressing to prevent a more serious problem.

More Serious Signs

When your loved one:

  • Loses weight or goes up and down in weight
  • Eats considerably less, avoiding meals as much as possible
  • Becomes secretive about eating
  • Binges or eats till she feels sick or exhausted
  • Cooks for others but won't eat it
  • Becomes upset when unable to exercise
  • Appears depressed, moody, irritable, or isolated

Find a dietitian familiar with eating disorders and a therapist to assess the situation and make recommendations for treatment.

Definite Distress Signals

When your loved one:

  • Fasts or severely restricts food intake
  • Hides or sneaks food
  • Spends excessive time in the bathroom after meals
  • Vomits, takes laxatives, diet pills or other medications to lose weight
  • Has lost a significant amount of weight is tired and depressed
  • Can't Concentrate
  • Has irregular periods, swollen glands or joints, broken blood vessels or bloodshot eyes
  • Wears layers of clothes even in warm weather
  • Faints or passes out

You and your loved one need professional help. Make an appointment with her physician and with an expert in eating disorders to find out how serious this is and design a treatment plan to help you cope with this.​​

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Eating disorders are consuming. They consume the individual in obsessive, negative thinking and behaviors and they consume the individual's relationships with family members, loved ones, and life.

This is partially due to the effects of starvation. When people are not adequately nourished, they think about food constantly, sometimes even dreaming about it. They also become depressed, isolated, and tired. They avoid relationships because they often feel others pressure them to eat, are physically depleted, and feel compelled to engage in eating disordered behaviors.

Loved ones find eating disorders extremely difficult to understand and accept. Seeing someone you love starve or damage their bodies is stressful, and, often, parents, spouses, and others begin to become intrusive in their efforts to get the person to eat or to stop purging. Soon, the individual may see these loved ones as enemies trying to control her rather than help.

Eating disorders may develop if a person has no other way to speak or represent her feelings. Frequently family dynamics, faulty communication patterns, losses or other stressors such as abuse contributed to negative feelings she could not deal with directly. It is never a simple matter that can be solved by telling the person just to eat. The symptoms have become the individual's way to avoid facing problems more directly or an attempts to feel in control when the rest of one's life feels out of control.

Feed Your Relationship By Getting Help!
Although eating disorders vary in severity from mild to life-threatening, they usually don't go away by themselves. People with eating disorders are often resistant to getting help; after all, it could be seen as a sign of weakness. Loved ones can help break through that by being open to getting help themselves and by examining how they or other family relationships or issues may have contributed. In a family, both fathers and mothers need to be involved in treatment. Too often, we hold mom responsible for everything in families: this challenge needs to be shared.

The sooner someone gets treatment, the more likely he or she will recover.

Usually people with eating disorders need an interdisciplinary approach, including individual and family or couples therapy, nutritional counseling, medical monitoring, and sometimes medications or group therapy. Depending on the severity, inpatient, day hospital, residential treatment or even tube-feeding or intravenous fluids may be necessary.

The sooner someone gets treatment, the more likely he or she will recover. Get help soon. Treatment is effective. As many as 75% of those afflicted by anorexia or bulimia will recover; the remaining 25% will be chronically ill and some will die. Family or marital therapy significantly improves the possibility of recovery.

Family members and loved ones need to understand that the problem is not a simple one: advice to "just eat" won't help. The eating and body image issues cover up much more complicated feelings, especially whether the person feels loved, feels "lovable? or loves herself. The eating disorder is an illogical system of thoughts and behaviors, attempting to solve deep self-esteem and identity problems and give a sense of control over one's life. Those surrounding the individual with an eating disorder need to understand: logic doesn't work, love does. Find ways to express your love, without over controlling or domination through therapy.

For more information, contact:
Cheryl Grezlik, LCSW
Clinical Supervisor

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Costin, C. (1997)
Your Dieting Daughter: Is She Dying For Attention?
N.Y.: Brunner/Mazed.

A great resource for parents to help them to understand the psychological reasons prompting a girl to diet and to distinguish between diets and eating disorders. It includes sound nutritional advice, distinctions between "fit or fanatic" exercise, and a discussion of family issues.

Lember, R. (1999)
Eating Disorders : A Reference Sourcebook
Phoenix, AZ.

Short articles by leading experts include discussions of symptoms and causes, physiological and medical issues, socio-cultural contributions and risk factors, dieting and obesity, and treatment strategies. It include a directory of treatment facilities and a extensive resource list, including books, videos, internet sites, and organizations.

Maine, M (1991)
Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and Food 
Carlsbad, CA.: Gurze book.

The only book to explore how fathers contribute to their daughter's body image, weight preoccupation, self-esteem, and eating disorders. Includes practical solutions for fathers, mothers, and daughters on how to improve family relationships and reconnect.

Siegal, M., Brisman, S., and Weinshel M. (1997)
Surviving an Eating Disorder: Perspectives and Strategies for Family and Friends
N.Y.: Harper and Row

Practical help for families trying to understand and live with an eating disorder. Gives both a dynamic understanding of the family context and advice regarding dealing with day-to-day issues such as anger, denial, secrets, and meals.

Friedman, S. (1997)
When Girls Feel Fat: Helping Girls Through Adolescence
Toronto, Canada: Harper Collins

Beautifully explains how girls translate their feelings and disappointments into self degradation and "the language of fat." A resource for parents, educators, and others guiding girls, full of practical advice as well as theory.

Online Resources
Links to The Eating Disorders Site which provides information about eating disorders and treatment resources. - Parenting
Links to the website, which is an online parenting service that offers comprehensive, high-quality information and a supportive community for raising children.

Mental Health Net
Links to the Mental Health Net website, your personal, award-winning review guide to mental health, psychology, and psychiatry online, currently listing over 9,000 individual resources.

National Eating Disorders Association
Links to the National Eating Disorders Association website. Sponsors Eating Disorders Awareness Week in February using educational and prevention programs.

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Patients may be referred by health care professionals or schools. For an initial assessment, please call:

Assessment Center
860.545.7200 or toll-free 1.800.673.2411
Hartford Hospital's Health Referral Service
860.545.1888 or toll-free 1.800.545.7664

Fore More Information
For additional information about the program and services, please call:

Cheryl Grezlik, LCSW
Clinical Supervisor

Melissa Deasy, LCSW
Program Manager