One in five Americans has an eating disorder, and there is no reason to believe that the incidence is any lower among the health-conscious residents of the Gallatin Valley than it is elsewhere around the nation, experts say.
In fact, speculates therapist Jeni Gochin, clinical director and co-founder of the Bozeman-based Eating Disorder Center of Montana (EDCMT), southwest Montana’s outdoor-centered culture may play into society’s general focus on body image, ideal body weight, athleticism, and specialty diets that can factor into the development of eating disorders for some.
Montana is home to individuals of all ages, genders, and body types who suffer from such illnesses as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, according to Gochin, who co-founded the EDCMT six years ago. Since then, the center has succeeded in treating patients through its intensive outpatient program and partial hospitalization/day treatment programs, but this month it has opened Montana’s first licensed residential treatment facility for patients with eating disorders.
Located in the historic Voss house at 319 South Willson Avenue, just three blocks from EDCMT’s downtown Bozeman office, the residential facility creates a local option for Montanans who require more intensive therapy that they previously were forced to seek out of state.
The facility represents the realization of a dream for Gochin, who has specialized in treating patients with eating disorders for 12 years, the past eight of them in Bozeman. The ability to work with patients in a residential setting has enabled the center to provide a new level of care, she says.
“As soon as I started doing this, there was a need,” Gochin said this week in the new residential center’s group therapy room. “There are patients who require a higher level of care, but there was no place here. To not send people out of state is huge.”
In 2017, the Montana legislature passed an act permitting the licensure of residential eating disorder centers in Montana. EDCMT went straight to work on establishing such a facility, acquiring the former Voss Inn bed and breakfast and beginning renovations on the historic structure.
The updated space is modernized and ADA-compliant, while retaining the charm of the historic mansion in a calm, inviting atmosphere.
“There is a feeling of belonging here, which is what I wanted to create,” Gochin said, stressing that such an environment provides a safe place for patients to undergo the extremely challenging work of treatment.
In only the first two weeks, feedback has been gratifying, Gochin said, with residents expressing that they feel safe, grateful, and welcome. All are critical factors in successful treatment, agrees Lindsey Grauman, an EDCMT registered dietitian.
“We’ve heard that a lot – that they feel safe physically and emotionally to lean into the process and share themselves,” she said.
Since joining the EDCMT staff last fall, Grauman has worked extensively with numerous patients to help them develop a healthy relationship” with food. That has involved everything from visiting grocery stores and farmers markets to ordering off restaurant menus, which overwhelms some in recovery. The new kitchen, where residents encounter and assist in preparing food in the presence of a dietitian for three meals and three snacks a day, “is super exciting for us,” she said, because “even being in a kitchen for some can be anxiety-producing.”
To illustrate the level of revulsion some patients feel for food, and thus appreciate the importance of having a safe place to work on it, Gochin suggests imagining having a plate of worms placed before you and being told you must eat it.
“It can take three months to get someone comfortable with having a meal,” she said. “Beyond intrusive thoughts, you have to align with food and become friends with food.”
Gochin and Trauma explained that eating disorders extremely complex and varied. Counter to the stereotype, it is “not a 20-year-old white female disorder,” affecting instead an estimated 30 million Americans of all ages, ethnicities and genders. Those suffering may have normal or near-normal Body Mass Index (BMI) and appear to be extremely fit and healthy, all while their metabolic systems are suffering from their destructive and extremely dangerous behaviors.
“Of all psychiatric disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate,” Grauman said.
Compounding the difficulty of identifying and treating patients is the societal stigma associated with eating disorders, according to Gochin. That was another reason she wanted to open the residential center in the Gallatin Valley.
“It’s extremely difficult to ask for help, but once you come through our door, we are welcoming and abiding and not judgmental,” she said.
EDCMT treats patients from all over the Gallatin Valley and region, and employs therapists, dietitians, a nurse practitioner, registered nurse, social worker/care manager, cook, attending physician/psychiatrist and a gardener – Gochin noted that the staff has grown exponentially from three to five to now 25. That isn’t the only growth she foresees for EDCMT, which may open residential facilities similar to Bozeman’s elsewhere in the state, including Missoula and Billings, she said.
More information about EDCMT and its programs are available at edcmt.com or by calling (406) 451-7370.