Brittney Wuesthoff of Chewelah is pretty busy coaching Little League, playing softball and rugby, doing CrossFit, working at Dutch Bros. and going to school at Spokane Falls Community College. But she’s also finding time to share her personal story — recently being interviewed by KHQ — about having an eating disorder.
It’s part of her effort to help people and raise awareness to an issue that is more common than most people think. According to Nationaleatingdisorders.com, nearly 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life.
In the spring of 2014, while at Minnesota’s Hamline University pursuing her dream of playing collegiate basketball, Wuesthoff noticed she got winded going up staircases which didn’t make any sense to her. Wuesthoff had a strict diet and was very active in running and exercising, so being out of shape didn’t add up.
She went to the internet and learned about eating disorders. Wuesthoff looked up Anorexia and then also learned about Orthorexia, which is preoccupation with eating healthy food.
“I was always working out and eating green salads while tracking calories,” Wuesthoff said. “I was seeing how low I could get sometimes. I’d eat a net of 600 calories and then run 7-9 miles a day.”
Eating disorders typically affect the young and old, but Orthorexia specifically is usually found in 30-40 year olds as metabolisms slow down and adults cope with a lifestyle change. Orthorexia turned into Anorexia for Wuesthoff.
“I struggled for three years and one and a half years was severely acute,” Wuesthoff said. “My parents flew me home for Easter break to see a doctor after I had admitted to having a problem. It was then that I was told I had bradycardia, an abnormally small heartbeat which is common in people with eating disorders.”
When Brittney came home, it was then that she decided to have an intake at The Emily Program which had a center in Spokane.
Like many people with eating disorders, Wuesthoff was shocked they suggested hospitalization – figuring she would just have to do some out-patient treatment. But the warning signs were there.
Since going to college, Brittney had lost 30 pounds and said her day was ruined when she didn’t eat what she had planned on and quickly exercised to get it out of her system.
“You don’t realize how malnourished you are,” she said. “You really lose all your personality and it affects your personal life. I was a brick wall. It wasn’t about being healthy, it was about being thin and good enough to fit in. I would have to get calories out of my system everyday.”
Wuesthoff had an unhealthy relationship with food, but she realized it and went through The Emily Program with treatment of 7.5 hour days, five days a week for four and a half months. Then she did four hours a day, four days a week for a month and a half with a recovery talk at the end.
There she had therapeutic meals, group therapy, nutritional classes and help from dietitians.
“You have to learn how to eat again,” Brittney said. “People with eating disorders don’t enjoy eating anymore. Now I enjoy food more and see it as energy for the day.”
Eating disorders can evolve from just about anything, they are a way of coping with deeper issues for people in all walks of life, Wuesthoff said. They can happen in athletes, people with bad homelife, people having changes in their sexuality and people with low self-esteem.
It’s also hard for loved ones to notice. Eating disorders are personal and secretive.
“What the Emily Program does is start from the beginning trying to find out what you are using the eating disorder for or what you are trying to cope with,” Wuesthoff said. “You then work with the therapist about these issues and slowly the dietitians can help you gain a better relationship with food and be able to see it as just food.”
Wuesthoff said she has a much more positive outlook on life and a much healthier relationship with food. People with eating disorders are never “cured” in the traditional sense, but Wuesthoff said she can realize the red flags of Orthorexia and address them. About 90 percent of people who go to rehab have to go back and Wuesthoff said it’s hard to see friends she’s made from The Emily Program still struggle everyday with an eating disorder.
“Society shouldn’t try to fit people in certain molds of body types,” Wuesthoff said. “You should love yourself like you would love your child. You wouldn’t starve your child would you?”
Wuesthoff said more information for those worried that they may have an eating disorder can be found at www.emilyprogram.com.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff