Tag Archives: eating disorders

Erica Adler: Dining Out, To Save Lives

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.

Erica Adler

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.

Unattainable ideal.

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.”

And then?

“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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Dustyn Levenson: Reshaping Reality

Westport loves food. This is a town where Martha Stewart opened a catering business. Where specialized shops, from Garelick & Herbs to Saugatuck Craft Butchery, thrive. Where “06880” posts like yesterday’s on restaurants draw drooling comments.

Westport is also a town where the social pressures to eat very little — to be as thin as possible — are enormous. At times they’re overwhelming.

Teenage girls know that, excruciatingly well. Just ask Dustyn Levenson.

At 12, the lifelong Westporter was diagnosed with anorexia. For 3 years — from November of 8th grade through February of 10th — she pinballed through 12 hospitals.

“I had rapid weight loss, low self-esteem, anxiety — all that fun stuff,” she says. She speaks honestly and forthrightly. There is no sugar-coating anorexia.

“I was spiraling out of control.”

Dustyn Levenson, today.

She was also stubborn. Each hospital — even though they specialized in eating disorders — called her case hopeless.

“A lot of times, I was so entrenched I didn’t want to get better,” Dustyn says. “But you can’t see clearly.”

At her lowest point, she was “as close to no daily consumption” of food as possible. She had feeding tubes, and PICC lines to her heart. Dustyn’s anorexia led to osteoporosis, and heart and blood disorders.

Her disease devastated her family. Her younger sister Gracyn — now a Staples freshman — suffered the most.

“She’s always been my best friend,” Dustyn says. But at her 1st hospital, Gracyn made a surprise visit while Dustyn was in the midst of a seizure. “That really traumatized her,” Dustyn says.

Finally, she landed in Avalon Hills. The clinic in remote Utah is known for treating “the worst of the worst” anorexics. Dustyn rode horses. She confronted her demons.

She began to recover.

It was not easy. “I had to realize how stupid I was being,” Dustyn says. “I had to see there is so much more to life than that.”

She says she will always be in recovery from anorexia. “It’s almost impossible to be a ‘normal’ eater in America today. There’s so much social pressure. So much striving to be the ‘thin ideal.'”

Entering Staples midway through sophomore year — where she was buoyed by a few good friends, including one who had written her every day while in treatment — Dustyn joined Staples Players. (She’s been cast as a dancer in “Oklahoma!.”)

In November, Dustyn Levenson will dance in the Staples Players’ production of “Oklahoma!”

Vowing to give back some of what she’s received, she became a certified EMT.

She also formed Reshaping Reality. The non-profit organization — affiliated with the Multi-Service Eating Disorder Association — is raising awareness about the dangers of dieting and disordered eating.

“Anorexia is so stigmatized,” Dustyn explains. “People say, ‘What’s wrong with you? Just eat!’ But it’s a mental illness, with the highest mortality rate of any of them.”

Dustyn has asked doctors, dieticians, therapists — and teenagers — to join the Reshaping Reality board. They’ll offers speakers, make videos and public service announcements, and help educate youngsters that “there’s more to life than your appearance.”

Next month, Dustyn will speak at an eating disorder fundraiser in New York. In December she heads to Utah for another speech.

She is grateful for all she has today.

“My family has been awesome,” Dustyn says. “They couldn’t be more supportive, after all I’ve put them through.” Gracyn — who calls her sister “my biggest inspiration” — has always been by Dustyn’s side.

Today, Dustyn says, she feels good. She’s doing well, and is excited about this new chapter in her life.

Her goal in starting Reshaping Reality was “to help one person. And my website has already had some awesome responses.”

“People tell me they thought they were the only one with an eating disorder. All I want to do is share my knowledge, and put my 3 years of treatment to good use.”

Dustyn Levenson already has.