My Day at the Renfrew Center
By Laura S. Picciano, DO
We all want to be at our best … whether that is looking our best or performing our best. Clearly, that is human nature. More often than not, our self-image is tied to our appearance and especially tied to weight. But what happens when that image becomes distorted? When does losing weight become an unrelenting desire to attain thinness? The cross over to an eating disorder occurs when thoughts of dieting, appearance and exercise take over ones’ daily life leaving little left over. Indeed, eating disorders can lead to serious and lethal consequences. The spectrums of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder. They are complex from a psychiatric standpoint and affect both men and women. In our busy, fast-paced office practices it may be difficult to pick up eating disorders. In my quest to care for my patients’ needs, I decided to spend a day at the renowned Renfrew Center to learn even more. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Renfrew Center, they are a national center involved in the treatment of eating disorders since 1985.
Anorexia involves severe calorie and food restrictions. Some patients exercise to the point of excess. There are a few key features to look out for including body image distortion, a refusal to maintain a healthy body weight, and a tremendous fear of gaining weight. In bulimia, frequent eating binges are followed by purging in order to eliminate the calories. Purging can be physical, either through laxative abuse, vomiting or excessive exercise, and can also be accomplished by starvation. In either condition, an obsession with food and weight is taking place and the consequences affect multiple organ systems.
My experience at the Renfrew Center was eye opening to say the least. All at once I had the opportunity to see just how distressing psychosocial issues can affect a person’s total well being and how food was only a manifestation of these complex illnesses. The Renfrew treatment team consists of a highly well-trained group of therapists, physicians and allied health providers. The journey to wellness for these patients is long and difficult. As part of their therapy, patients are encouraged to express their feelings through the use of art therapy. To say that I was truly inspired by these brave patients is an understatement.
The Ripa Center, in partnership with the Renfrew Center, will be honoring women fighting difficult battles with eating disorders. We will co-host “The Art of Recovery,” an exhibit of artwork by women in recovery from eating disorders, on Tuesday, December 2 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. During the exhibit, a presentation will be made by Sondra Rosenberg, ATR-BC, to identify someone who may be struggling with an eating disorder and how to help them get the treatment they need. Wendy Cramer, MEd and a featured artist, and I also will present. Please join us that evening. I’m sure you will be inspired by the thoughtfulness, spirit and resilience of these remarkable women.