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Using bad for good: a woman's journey through anorexia

Opelika-Auburn News - 3/4/2017

Being thin wasn't new to Reeder Dulaney, and neither was dropping a few pounds when stresses piled up.

She had lost weight before when her father faced health complications, but was able to gain it back soon after. So when she saw a decline in the numbers on the scale again, she told herself it would be like before-she would bounce back.

"I can gain it back, I can gain it back," Dulaney would tell herself. "I'm just stressed out, I'm just stressed out."

Two years later she was rushed to the emergency room, too weak to move and fluttering in and out of consciousness.

"It just kind of got out of control," Dulaney remembered. "One day you weigh X, then three months later you've lost 15 pounds. I just didn't have it to lose because I was already so thin, but I really did not think I had an eating disorder."

Eating disorders in America

An estimated 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their life, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). To raise awareness, the association declared Feb. 26 - March 4 as National Eating Disorders Awareness week with the theme "It's Time to Talk About It," encouraging everyone to get screened.

When Dulaney, Auburn City Councilman Gene Dulaney's wife and coordinator of the Auburn United Methodist Food Pantry, first began losing weight, she attributed it to stress. Over time, she also developed digestive issues. She thought the gallbladder removal surgery would help, but certain foods still upset her stomach, so she ate less and less, and "it just slowly slid downhill."

Looking back, Dulaney realizes the scale had become an idol, and during a time when so much change was happening, what she chose to eat was her way of grasping at control.

"That is the only thing I could control was what I put in my mouth and what I ate," Dulaney said. "But, actually, it controlled me."

Eating disorders are mental illnesses

Patricia Keeney, a nurse practitioner at the Auburn University Medical Clinic, is part of the Eating Disorder Treatment Team on campus, which combines medical providers, counselors and dietitians to help treat those with anorexia, bulimia, binging or body dysmorphic disorder.

To Keeney, treating these issues take the whole team because they stem from a root cause. Two thirds of people with anorexia also showed signs of anxiety disorders several years before they developed an eating disorder, according to NEDA.

Out of 2,400 people hospitalized for an eating disorder, 97 percent had one or more co-occurring conditions including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder .

After two years of the downhill slope, Dulaney got a stomach virus in June 2015. Her housekeeper found her unable to get up and she was rushed to the emergency room. She stayed for two nights, and when she got back home, her son sat her down.

"It was just like an unreal moment because he was showing me on the computer all these facilities he had researched, and it's just like, 'I can't possibly be going to a treatment center,'" Dulaney said.

She couldn't deny it anymore. Her neighbors had seen the ambulance. The paramedic who carried her to the ambulance volunteered with her at the food pantry where she has worked for 16 years.

"Here I am giving food away, but I wasn't eating food at home," Dulaney said. "I truly feel like Satan pinpointed me at my weakness and took me out of the ball game."

Everyone knew, and Dulaney realized she needed help.

A team of care

Before joining the team at the medical clinic, Keeney said her view of eating disorders was similar to what many may think.

"You come across an anorexic and you would say, 'Well, just tell them to eat,'" Keeney said, adding that many in the medical community remain uneducated about eating disorders. "That doesn't work. That's not how that works at all."

A month after the ER visit, Dulaney traveled to Remuda Ranch at The Meadows, an inpatient treatment center in Arizona. On the brochures there were scenic views, but Dulaney said it was nothing like a vacation.

"They break you down," Dulaney said. She was immediately humbled when they searched through her bags and took her razor when she arrived. From that moment on her daily schedule was set.

Dulaney ate six meals a day: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. Everyone in the center played games while they ate to keep them distracted. She met with a dietitian to create an eating plan and counselors who helped her work through the root causes of the illness. They met in groups and shared their stories.

"They say that's the only way that you can heal is to get the secrets out-find the root cause," Dulaney said.

Dulaney came back to Auburn in October 2015, but decided to go back on Dec. 25, 2015 and stayed until February 2016. In February she had reached her ideal body weight, but hated that she couldn't fit into the clothes she bought when she returned in October.

"I'm at the weight I'm supposed to be, but my head does not like it," Dulaney said. "I want to be healthy, but body image is the last thing to come. ?It's going to be something I'm going to have to work at. And it's just going to be something I'm going to have to make myself do."

Now, Dulaney tries to share her story and spread awareness about eating disorders. Though many who suffer are young women, Dulaney said she doesn't fit the mold and wants to break stigmas associated with eating disorders.

"I just felt like God wanted to use it," Dulaney said. "There's a verse?what Satan intended for bad, God used for good."

Recognizing signs and getting help

While some symptoms are noticeable, Keeney said many eating disorders go undiagnosed because they're not visible.

However, there are some signs that family and friends may notice if a loved one has an eating disorder, including over exercising, going to the restroom during the middle of a meal or right after, eating only certain foods, playing with food, drinking excessive liquids or avoiding eating with others.

For those struggling, Keeney encouraged them to seek help and contact her at the medical clinic, which is open to the community.

"I think people have to be willing to ask for help and receive the help, and to be open minded to hear maybe things that they don't want to hear and do things that feel uncomfortable to achieve... a healthy balance," Keeney said.

For more information about eating disorders, visit To reach Dulaney, email To contact Keeney, call the Auburn University Medical Clinic at 334-844-4416.


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