ELYRIA — Christina Bizup-Schmidt can’t remember a time when she enjoyed eating.
Since she was 6, Bizup-Schmidt has had a dysfunctional relationship with food that led her down anorexia nervosa’s self-destructive path. She was severely restricting her calorie intake, over-exercising and nearly starving herself to an early death.
Now 37, well-spoken and self-aware, the North Ridgeville resident is far from her rock-bottom weight of 77 pounds, and she’s eager to support other adults suffering from eating disorders.
In fact, Bizup-Schmidt and Jennifer Povlsen, who also suffers from anorexia, are co-leaders of a new, free weekly support group to help those in Lorain County and surrounding areas who battle eating disorders.
The hour-long support group will meet at 6 p.m. Mondays at Psych & Psych Services in Elyria, starting next week.
The group begins at an opportune time — during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Feb. 21 to 27.
“It will the first support group of its kind in the area and one that is desperately needed,” said Diana Santantonio, who heads the professional therapy and treatment center and has donated space to host the group.
“Eating disorders have the most fatal diagnosis. There is a 10 to 15 percent mortality rate, and that is higher than any other mental health condition. These deaths aren’t from suicide, they are from starvation or heart attacks,” said Santantonio, who started specializing in treating eating disorders in 1980 when there were plenty of treatment options for people.
Now, she says there are no in-patient eating disorder programs in the area, and the only support group is in Akron. “That’s one of the reasons why we want to have this support group because it is a way to go and meet with other people with eating disorders.”
Bizup-Schmidt and Povlsen are both patients of Santantonio and were eager to head up a support group to create a safe place for themselves and other adults, no matter where they are on the road to recovery.
“My food is my medicine, and if I don’t take my medicine, I’ll die,” Bizup-Schmidt said. “I still have food phobias and my quirks, but I am challenging myself to enjoy food because for so many years, I never did. You develop a very warped thinking, and you take a lot of pride and sense of accomplishment in your eating disorder.”
Povlsen, 29, said she has struggled with her eating disorder off and on for 15 years.
She said she has never shared a full-blown sit-down dinner with her two children, ages 6 and 5. The Elyria family has never enjoyed a meal of meat, potatoes and veggies.
Her disease keeps her from consuming more than 500 to 800 calories a day, at least right now, but she longs to get better, feel better and be a stronger mom for her kids.
“It’s been a constant struggle now for at least two years straight. I don’t think I’m out the woods, but I still want to start a support group because we are all at different levels of recovery. It’s very beneficial knowing people have been there and have gotten better,” Povlsen said. “I’m just really hoping that we can reach out to the local people here, male or female, who are struggling with this, who think that nobody else is,” she said. “I hadn’t met anyone who had an eating disorder until I started going to these groups and being online. I basically felt that I was by myself. It’s going to be very exciting to see how this turns out because there is nothing around here, so it will be wonderful.”
The support group can accommodate 15 to 16 people and will likely include speakers, art therapy, yoga and other topics as it develops. Participants do not need to RSVP.
The most important thing, the women said, is that it will be accessible to people in and around the county.
“I vividly remember when I was trying to find treatment, there was nothing that I could go to,” Bizup-Schmidt said.
“A support group is different than therapy. If you’re having a bad day, there is something to be said for having that person sitting across from you going, ‘I understand.’”
Povlsen agreed. “We come in all shapes and sizes and we all need to have help. There is support for alcoholics, narcotics or overeaters anonymous, all sorts of things, but there is nothing for us and we shouldn’t be ashamed.”
“I want to get better. I need a support to get better,” Povlsen said. “I want to be able to start better memories for my kids than just seeing me stumbling around or not being able to get off the couch because of my muscles, or wondering why the bathroom door is locked. I want to be there for them 100 percent instead of 50-50 with my head somewhere else.”
If you go
- What: Psych & Psych Services is hosting a support group for men and women ages 18 and older with an eating disorder.
- When: 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays
- Where: 750 S. Abbe Road, Elyria
- Cost: Free
- Info: (440) 323-5121 or www.psychandpsych.com
Contact Chrissy Kadleck at firstname.lastname@example.org.