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Slice of Life: Carylynn Larson, fighting against calorie counting

Sunday - 2/24/2013, 9:59am  ET

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Carylynn Larson, 33, founded Rock Recovery to help individuals with eating disorders after she had a dangerous relapse in 2007. The organization will host events during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week through March 2. (Courtesy of Rock Recovery)

Alex Beall, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - During National Eating Disorder Awareness Week from Feb. 24 to March 2, local organizations will host events to raise awareness for an illness that affects 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States.

The D.C. non-profit Rock Recovery, which helps people suffering from eating disorders and has educated thousands of people about the issue, will be taking part in events.

Carylynn Larson, 33, founder and executive director of Rock Recovery, is recovering from an eating disorder. She talks with WTOP Living about starting the organization in 2007 after experiencing a dangerous relapse.

What was your reason for starting Rock Recovery?

The gap between residential treatment and what you can get in terms of treatment from a therapist or dietitian that you work with, or even from a support group, became very apparent to me. I have had friends who have gone into residential treatment and relapsed coming out again, and again, and again.

Then there are so many people who see a therapist, who see a dietitian and just get worse, and worse, and worse. I fundamentally believe if there were more support in that middle ground, more robust care, fewer people would have to go into a higher level of care and more people when they come out of higher level of care would be able to sustain their recovery.

How does Rock Recovery bridge that gap?

We provide group therapy, group meals and a really big variety of experiential therapy like art therapy. We integrated a lot of what they do in residential and put it in a community setting and then supplement that with mentoring and a treatment team approach where you have a whole team focused on a client and monitoring their progress.

What role does the mentor play?

Our mentors are people who are in recovery from a similar experience. They are a person our client can connect with throughout the week. The unique thing about the mentors in our program is they are considered part of the treatment team so that anything you say to your mentor, the therapist will know too.

You mentioned the different types of therapy you have like the art therapy. Do you have other types?

I think the coolest one is called NIA. It's a mind body movement class. It's very therapeutic for someone with an eating disorder because it's all about feeling what's going on in your body and expressing that through your movement. An eating disorder is a lot about suppressing feelings and cutting off mind from body so it provides your mind a way to engage with your body in a safe and expressive way.

What is your past experience with eating disorders?

I didn't have any trouble around food until my senior year of college, and then I just had a fair number of things that were major stressers in my life all build at once. It was the first time I felt like I needed to get things in control. The first time I made a conscious decision to change my diet, it was like a switch flipped, and all the understanding and head knowledge I had about eating disorders was -- phew -- it didn't matter one bit. At first it was just restricting food and using total control over food. I developed incredibly severe food fears, wouldn't touch certain things, cut out whole food groups. I would essentially lie to people; connive people around my food choices.

I stayed in that trend of starving and exercise insanity for about two and a half years. I started to get a little bit of health treatment, but then it morphed more into binge eating disorder and exercise bulimia. I didn't know how to eat right anymore. That's really where I hit rock bottom because there's no control in that. I started to get some help and support at that point. I had some degree of recovery, and I actually felt like I was in recovery for about a year.

But then I got engaged and then it was like, "Oh, life's out of control again." So I started to backslide into it. I looked all over the country to find a halfway house sort of thing. I couldn't find anywhere in the country that provided anything like that. My therapist rallied to get me into residential. I went out there for a month, then came back and was very intentional about creating my own step down program. Part of that was thinking about how I could give back to the community.

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