Like many therapists, Erica Adler meets patients in her office, and on Zoom.
Unlike most, she also shares meals with them, in restaurants and their own homes.
Adler is not overly chummy, nor does she violate professional boundaries. As a licensed clinical social worker specializing in eating disorders, she’s found that talking through issues between mouthfuls — or when clients are paralyzed by fear about swallowing their food — can led to important breakthroughs.
Fairfield County is fertile territory for a therapist dealing with eating disorders. The culture of perfectionism — perfect lives, perfect bodies — can tip people over the edge, from working out into over-exercising, or from healthy eating into obsessive calorie-counting.
Anyone can develop an eating disorder. But, Adler says, it’s most common in young women. And very common in Westport and Weston.
Adler knows this ares well. She attended Long Lots Elementary, Bedford Middle and Staples High School — not too long ago. After graduating from Staples in 2008, and Skidmore College 4 years later, she added a mater’s in social services from Fordham University.
Adler worked at Lenox Hill and Silver Hospitals. Helping patients with meals, she became interested in nutrition. During COVID she worked in Greenwich with people who had eating disorders. Recently, she opened a private practice in Weston.
“As amazing and wonderful as Westport was growing up, the level of competition was intense,” she notes.
“A lot of moms chronically worked out. I saw lots of eating and bingeing. We learned about it in health class, and I saw it in friends. At summer camp I had a friend with an eating disorder. I wondered about the signs, and how I could help.”
Just over a decade later, social media has amplified the usual teenage pressures . Add in COVID — when young people were stuck at home, their sports seasons canceled, snacking all day, watching and comparing themselves to others on YouTube and TikTok — and it’s no wonder eating disorders soared.
Treatment is not easy. Some parents tell Adler: “Fix my kid.” But the girl (or boy) may not be ready to give up the one thing they can control: their body.
Adler uses dialectical behavior therapy — working to develop acceptance and change-oriented strategies, replacing the “coping skills” of eating-disordered behavior with others.
When Adler shares a meal with a patient, she’ll ask, “How are you feeling?”
“Scared,” one might say. “I don’t eat carbs. If I do, I’ll get fat.”
“No one will look at me.”
It took 3 sessions a week — and work with a licensed dietician — for one young runner to healthy enough to go to college. Adler still checks in weekly.
Zoom is great. Yet technology can also be dangerous.
Often, Adler says, a young person with an eating disorder will starve herself — but constantly see photos of food, and search online for recipes to salivate over.
“It’s tough as a therapist to compete with that,” she admits.
Eating disorders are complex. They take a long time to treat. But for Erica Adler — and her patients — that treatment can mean the actual difference between life and death.
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