Identity Crisis

We hope you enjoy the third of a five-part guest blog series from one of our OPC alumna – sharing a glimpse inside her path of recovery and lessons learned along the way. We are continually inspired by all of our women and are proud to share this post with you, our readers. 

Giving up an eating disorder is, in many ways, giving up an identity. It becomes so all-consuming that it’s inevitable your friends will start to whisper behind your back, “Yea, she’s the anorexic one.” Which is embarrassing and shameful. But, after a while, it becomes familiar. At least you’re something.

Before I became the <whispers> “one with the eating disorder” I was “The Trapeze Artist.” God, I loved that! But when I injured myself and was no longer able to fly, I still so desperately wanted an identity – something interesting and memorable. So, even though I was ashamed of it, I latched on to the all-encompassing eating-disordered girl option.

Choosing to stay in recovery means giving up that title and, at least for a while, being someone who can’t be summed up in a three word packaged tag line. It is harder to describe me now: “She’s the one with the curly hair, glasses, kinda quirky. Talks quickly, from New York or Boston or somewhere on the East Coast where she apparently didn’t like the weather…” That’s how I imagine people describing me, but I don’t really know what anyone chooses to highlight anymore, which is incredibly disconcerting.

It has taken a long time to convince myself that having an eating disorder was never what made me interesting. In fact, it’s what made me uninteresting because I had to do everything the same way every day and I lost my sense of adventure. I was nothing but an empty title – like a pair of ugly sunglasses that have a high-end label, so you wear them anyway for the brand name, ignoring the fact that they make you look like a walking bug.

But in writing this stream of consciousness post, I realized it is kind of fun to try to describe myself in a free-flowing way  - not knowing exactly where it’s going to go: “Recovering journalist turned communications writer?” “The 27 year old who wears old lady shoes and chooses to take the train to work and walk from the station?” “The one who’s only been to Hollywood once and never plans to go again?” “The one who unabashedly over-punctuates everything she puts in writing?” “The one who blindly decided to move across the country on a whim without knowing anybody…”

The choices are infinite, and everyone will have a different description – some positive, some negative, and some more apt than others.

But in a way I like that. It leaves room for more possibilities. 

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The Medical Complications of Co-Occurring Disorders and Eating Disorders

We hope you enjoy the third post in our four part series on the treatment of co-occurring and eating disorders at Oliver-Pyatt Centers. Thank you to Medical Director Dr. Joel Jahraus, MD, FAED, CEDS who speaks to the increased medical complications for those individuals struggling with co-occurring and eating disorders. 


The medical impact of eating disorders has been well-documented. In essence, every organ system in the body is impacted by poor nutrition over time and the subsequent metabolic changes that occur in the body of an individual with chronic malnutrition, irrespective of actual weight numbers. Other eating disorder behaviors including vomiting, bingeing, and over the counter substance abuse like ipecac, diuretics, diet pills, and laxatives, add additional layers of medical complications.

Yet, the individual with comorbid alcohol or drug abuse and an eating disorder is at particular risk of medical morbidity and even death due to body organ failure or the lethal interaction of alcohol and drugs with medications used to treat eating disorders. All organs are impacted, but in particular the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas are impacted by both eating disorders and alcohol or drugs. Nutritional and vitamin deficiencies from both illnesses result in a dangerous situation with refeeding. Thiamine (Vitamin B1) in particular needs to be given urgently, before any refeeding starts in the individual with chronic malnutrition and alcoholism or there is a risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome with a 10-20% mortality rate. The heart is also impacted by the potential for alcoholic or drug cardiomyopathy while the eating disorder may negatively impact the heart through malnutrition with regression in heart size and structure and diminished cardiac output as well as arrthythmias due to conduction disturbances. The liver and pancreas damage from alcohol and drugs is well-known which compounds the issue of malnutrition and subsequent refeeding on both organs with development of hepatic dysfunction and pancreatitis. Another potentially lethal issue is the interaction of alcohol with some of the medications used to treat eating disorders. In particular, benzodiazepine effects on respiratory suppression are additive with those of alcohol and not an uncommon cause of death in these individuals with dual diagnosis illness. 

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Meet Our Team: Megan Bendig


1. What is your name and what are your credentials?
Megan Bendig, Senior Primary Therapist in Casa Verde; MSW, RCSWI

2. What is your background (brief introduction)?
My professional background is rooted in residential eating disorder treatment. Prior to coming aboard at OPC, I worked for a residential ED center in Birmingham, AL which is where I’m from. I also completed my internship there during graduate school at the University of Alabama. (ROLL TIDE!!)

3. What does a typical day look like for you at OPC?
One of the reasons I love OPC is that this is a very difficult question to answer – every day keeps you on your toes! Senior primary therapist is a new role within our organization so each day comes with new challenges and opportunities to aid in the healing process of our women. I wear various hats, one of which is that of primary therapist to two to three of the women in Casa Verde. I meet with my clients daily for individual and family psychotherapy. Additionally, I supervise or oversee the care of 2-4 Casa Verde women which includes weekly case management sessions. These sessions are truly unique and address the in the moment needs of each woman… whether it be a general check in or a snack exposure to a fear food. I also run body image group and oversee the Mindful Movement Program.

4. How does the team at OPC work together? How does your role overlap and differ with other roles?
The team at OPC is unbelievable – I’ve never experienced a more inspired group of women (and men!) I believe the key to our team’s functioning is that each member puts our women’s needs above all else. In working from this perspective, the rest seems to flow naturally!

5. What is your favorite thing about OPC?
I cherish the moments in our work that allow us to meet our clients as humans – not as treatment provider to treatment receiver. My favorite thing about OPC is that this mindset is infused in our day to day operations. For example, I consider myself to be creative and I find it incredibly meaningful to be able to infuse creativity into my work with our women. Another example is how we as a staff interact with the women outside of our professional context. I’m always up for a game of scattergories or banagrams and love being able to relate to our clients in a way that is lighthearted, social, and non-threatening.

6. What are three facts about you that people do not know?
I was born on the 4th of July. My brother, who was three at the time, thought the fireworks were for me! The start of football season is my favorite holiday (that counts as a holiday, right?!) I love DIY projects and crafts.