For 15 years, members of MSU Health Services’ departments of medicine, psychiatry, psychology and nutrition have worked together as an eating disorders team to coordinate multidisciplinary recovery care.
The current eating disorders team consists of a doctor, a physician, a nurse practitioner, a nutritionist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a social worker. Julia Popenoe, a physician at Olin Health Center, said the team primarily serves medical providers.
“Our team actually coordinates their care for providers,” Popenoe said. “If students see multiple different providers in different subjects, there can be some communication.”
Because eating disorders are mental health conditions with a significant health component, having a multidisciplinary treatment plan is critical to recovery, Popenoe said.
Anne Buffington, a registered dietitian and coordinator of the university’s nutrition program, said providers collaborate in a client-centered effort to address the complexities of eating disorders.
“(Eating disorders) are complex psychological conditions, so there is no single cause,” Buffington said. “(Recovery) includes a support system from a multidisciplinary team of providers because eating disorders do affect individuals from a medical perspective, a nutritional perspective, a psychological perspective, and sometimes even a psychiatric perspective.”
The team can provide coordinated care for students with eating disorders, regardless of how they initially seek help. With so many aspects of needed care available, students can enter recovery through a variety of pathways.
Popenoe said she often has students bring up health concerns, such as fatigue, hair loss or feeling cold. After talking to these students more, she determined that these concerns were symptoms of a disturbed relationship with food.
In these cases, she said MSU’s program is helpful for students entering recovery because they are able to focus on resolving their original health issues.
Paige Helfen, a senior dietitian and president of Spartan Enhanced Body Acceptance, said that while she hasn’t heard of anyone entering rehab this way, she speculates it could be beneficial to the recovery process. .
“I feel like it almost makes you recover faster because you go into it expecting your physical symptoms to get better and not even noticing the psychological symptoms that led to your eating disorder,” Helfing said. “So I think it’s almost more beneficial to keep an open mind in this situation.”
Hair loss, extreme fatigue, and feeling cold are just some of the common physical symptoms of eating disorders. Physical symptoms also include weight loss, mood changes and shortened menstrual cycles, Popenoe said.
Eating disorders also include behavioral symptoms such as food restriction, overeating, laxatives and compulsive exercise, Buffington said. Buffington said understanding these behaviors as symptoms of a disease is important to combating the stigma attached to eating disorders.
“(Eating) disorders are often misunderstood as someone’s choice, but that’s not the case,” Buffington said. “You would never say someone chooses to have depression or someone chooses to have anxiety, right? So they go back to that mental, psychological condition. Those are just symptomatic behaviors of that condition.”
Buffington said it’s often difficult for people with psychological problems with eating disorders to recognize that their eating behaviors are problematic. This resistance can make it difficult for anyone trying to help and support a loved one they care about.
In this case, Buffington says, it’s important to express concerns about a specific “I statement.” She also said people should remind themselves that it is not their job to provide medical care.
“Their role is not to be a friend’s nutritionist, a friend’s medical provider, or a friend’s therapist, but just to be a friend,” Buffington said. “For a friend or loved one to take some level of responsibility for the person’s actions Responsibility can become very painful and they really shouldn’t be doing it.”
Helfing recommends encouraging positive behavior and engaging in positive activities with friends you may care about.
“One of my favorite comments was the suggestion to go along,” Helfing said. “If you notice someone hasn’t eaten, invite them to go to the restaurant with you or just be accommodating.”
Buffington said there are multiple avenues for students to access eating disorder care, depending on where they feel most comfortable starting. Students can schedule an admissions appointment through MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services, a nutrition counseling appointment through Student Health and Wellness, or an appointment with a medical provider through Campus Health Services.
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“(Some) people hate going to the doctor and would rather see a nutritionist or see a therapist as the first thing they do, and that’s fine, too,” Popenoe said. “That’s a good thing to start with just looking more comfortable.”
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