New weekly eating disorder support group to meet Tuesdays in Vail | VailDaily.com

New weekly eating disorder support group to meet Tuesdays in Vail

Kirsten Dobroth
Special to the Daily

There's been more of a discourse recently about the availability of mental health resources in the area, and on a national level, that's been helping to lift the stigma from people affected by mental illness and seeking help.

Part of lifting that stigma comes in the form of providing services and support to people who might need it and bringing programs to our small valley that help increase patients' access to care. The addition of a weekly support group for eating disorders hopes to do just that by brining services to people who might be suffering — or recovering — from this less-talked-about niche of mental health.

About the group

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, ANAD, is a nonprofit organization that's stated purpose is to "alleviate suffering and provide support for those afflicted with eating disorders," as stated on the group's website.

"ANAD is the oldest organization aimed at fighting eating disorders in the United States," the website says. "ANAD assists people struggling with eating disorders and also provides resources for families, schools and the eating-disorder community."

Since the early 1970s, the organization has sought to provide care via group work, peer-to-peer support and educational tools at no cost in order to reach people who might be suffering from a spectrum of eating disorders across the country.

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Local licensed social worker and psychotherapist Jill Zimmerman Rutledge has been involved with the group since the 1980s, when it was mostly based out of the Chicago area, and she is organizing that same level of support — free of charge — to anyone who needs it each Tuesday evening at the Vail Interfaith Chapel, with every third Tuesday of the month open to family members, as well.

Rutledge explained that the group isn't a therapy group but will be used as a positive space to talk about recovery, meet others who might have similar issues and develop healthy habits from one another.

"The group is a welcoming, confidential and encouraging space," she said. "We won't be talking about eating disorder behavior because that can be very triggering, but we're going to be talking about successes and struggles."

Some of the meetings will also focus on aspects of mindfulness, with breathing exercises and light meditation-style work mixed in with group talk.

The statistics

While eating disorders don't often get as much attention on the spectrum of mental health as other conditions, the number of people afflicted by anorexia nervosa or bulimia show that those within this demographic need more attention. According to ANAD's statistics, 30 million people in the United States suffer from some form of eating disorder, with those suffering from eating disorders more likely to die from their condition than any other niche of mental illness.

And while women often make up a larger percentage of the demographic suffering from these disorders, there's no age, ethnicity or gender that finds it's immune from having mental-health issues relating to food and body image.

ANAD statistics cite 13 percent of women older than 50 as engaging in some sort of eating-disorder behavior and 16 percent of transgender college students reporting similar issues. Rutledge said some of the stigmas relating to body image and eating disorders could make it difficult for people to come forward when they need help, and while females often receive more of the focus, men can be just as susceptible to bulimic and anorexic behaviors.

"I think the point to stress is that eating disorders are symptoms of feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, low self-esteem and out of control of one's life," she said. "It can be hard for anyone to reach out because an eating disorder can feel embarrassing and humiliating because a person might feel like no one will understand."

In an area where fitness is often first and foremost, it might be hard to distinguish when exercise becomes more than a pastime or training mechanism and turns into an obsession that spurs more negative behavior patterns and habits.

Get support

Rutledge hopes the group will be a positive addition to the growing mental-health resources in the Vail Valley and bring support to people who might need it, although she also recommended online forums, such as thebodypositive.org, as part of the growing list of mediums through which individuals can seek help.

While there have been more campaigns over the years focusing on bringing a wider variety of physiques into the mainstream as a means to change the dialogue of what defines the ideal shape, finding support through others can often be just as important to developing a healthy self-image.

"Support groups are important because as a person connects with other group members who really understand, and who share encouragement and motivation, it can help boost self-esteem," said Rutledge via email. "By talking with others who have a first-hand experience of an eating disorder, a person who suffers from an eating disorder can feel valuable and worthy — and this is a first step toward feeling hope that the eating disorder can be replaced by healthy coping skills."

More information about the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders and their support groups can be found at anad.org.

If you go …

What: National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) support group.

When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, with the third Tuesday of the month open to family members.

Where: Vail Interfaith Chapel, 19 Vail Road, Vail.

Cost: Free.

More information: To learn more about the organization, visit anad.org, or contact Jill Zimmerman Rutledge at jillzr@gmail.com or 970-949-0404. To find online support for eating disorders, visit thebodypositive.org.