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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, May 8, 2013 7 years ago

Defeating eating disorders

Experts: Obesity about more than numbers

Mary Hageman has lost friends to eating disorders.

It wasn’t the disorder itself that killed them, but the mental and emotional anguish that drove them to take their own lives.

“I have seen it several times,” said Hageman, who runs a support group for women with food addiction and eating disorders. “It’s tragic and angering because the truth of the situation is that this is a disease people can’t control, and often times people are not given the opportunity to get the help they need.”

Hageman said one of the biggest obstacles to people getting the help they need is the limited resources available in the community. She said White Picket Fence in Winter Park is one of few that treats the mental health and emotional aspects of obesity.

“I think there’s a large stigma around eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia and binging,” Hageman said. “People think it should be controlled by will. And that goes for people who suffer from it and people who don’t.”

White Picket Fence founder and clinical director Sandee Nebel said many doctors still treat obesity as something that is controlled through willpower, but she said there are always mental health and emotional issues that need to be addressed as well.

White Picket Fence will host its first fundraiser from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 10, at the Taproom at Dubsdread, 549 W. Par Street in College Park. Visit

“People assume it’s about moving more and eating less,” Nebel said. “There are people who can do that and they’re good to go, but then there are others who have some emotional and mental health issues to work through.”

“I try to compare it to an iceberg: What we see is above the surface, but there’s so much more.”

Even those who struggle with being overweight or obese feel as if they should be able to control their behavior and Dr. Indira Abraham-Pratt, a psychologist with Florida Hospital’s Healthy 100 Kids program, which works with obese children and their families, said that feeling can make getting help even more difficult.

“We have a lot of families feeling intimidated when they come to us,” she said. “They feel like they should already know how to do this. It’s not as easy as the eat-less, move-more approach. We try to remove that stigma, to help them know they’re not at fault.”

Abraham-Pratt agreed that there aren’t many programs that attempt to treat the whole person when it comes to obesity.

“I have phone calls coming in all the time asking about other resources in the community. Families come from an hour to an hour and a half away because they don’t have resources in their community,” she said. “It’s quite scarce.”

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“A lot of times, families don’t have the funds or insurance doesn’t cover it,” she added. Healthy 100 Kids does not turn anyone away due to financial limitations.

But Nebel said there is some progress being made in the treatment of obesity. This year, for the first time, Nebel said binge eating will be identified as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a national manual for mental health professionals.

“Which means there’s an opportunity for insurance to pay for treatment,” Nebel said.

To help fill the gap for now, Nebel started the nonprofit White Picket Fence Foundation about a year ago. They see about 20 patients a week for little to no cost out of leased space on the Calvary Church property in Winter Park, offering one-on-one and family counseling, support groups and meditation.

But Nebel said she knows the need is greater.

“It’s not very popular to say, ‘I’m overweight, let me go to counseling and work through this for a year or two,’” she said. “People want immediate results, which is hard for some people to maintain. We hope to be able to help more people.”

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