Anorexia: Monache grad tells of her struggles with the disorder
Summer months are potentially dangerous for developing eating disorders
After struggling with dieting and other symptoms of an eating disorder — while successfully hiding it from family and friends — a former Porterville woman returned to school, changed her career, and is now helping others through an outreach program she has created.
Jennifer Lombardi, a graduate of Monache High School in 1989, Porterville College in 91, Cal State Sacramento in 1994, earned her masters in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling in 2000. She now is co-owner of a northern California treatment and prevention team of SEDOP — Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program.
The program — celebrating 10 years of treating eating disorders in Northern California — is a medically supervised, comprehensive treatment program in Sacramento that serves adults and adolescents with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
But for Lombardi, it all began with her own personal struggle with anorexia, an eating disorder caused by lack of appetite. And, in the former Porterville resident’s case, it was characterized with decreasing body weight, a distorted body image and an obsessive fear of gaining weight.
“Jennifer struggled with Anorexia. At the time, there were little to no treatment resources, and insurance companies did not pay for treatment, so her family was asked to take a second and a third mortgage out on their home to pay for treatment,” said Brittany Mohr, who recently started working with the program.
Lombardi said her symptoms started early, but she did not become aware of them until she was 17 and at the end of her senior year at Monache.
“Looking back, I realize there were signs of issues relating to food and weight going as far back as third grade,” Lombardi said.
In high school, she was a cheerleader, a member of the Monache Marauder Band’s color guard unit and on student council — in her junior year she was student body president.
“Nobody would ever have guessed that underneath I was pretty insecure and a pretty anxious person,” Lombardi said. “I had all of the classic traits. I was anxious and I was a people pleaser — I didn’t like conflicts, was fearful of change, and was very driven.”
But once she graduated, everything escalated.
“It all started as wanting to eat healthy and look better,” Lombardi said.
And with people constantly complimenting her, it did not take long to go from healthy weight loss to being an extremely ill individual.
“Within three months, I was never ill — needing a higher level of care than what I offer now in our program,” Lombardi said. “Fortunately I saw a doctor who saw it. He told me right out, ‘If you keep doing this, you are going to die.’”
But there were not a lot of treatment options or centers and though she regained some weight, it did not take long to start relapsing.
“I became a very effective liar. I lied to family and friends about my health — when and how much I had eaten, the amount of exercise I did,” Lombardi said. “I covered up my symptoms. I learned quickly how to say what people wanted to hear and put them at ease.”
Lombardi struggled with the illness for five years and after earning her degree and going to work for a public relations firm, she found herself at a crossroad.
Her work required she attend numerous luncheons and other social events with colleagues and clients.
“I had to push myself to act more normal around food,” Lombardi said. “I started seeing a therapist and it was a slow process.”
As she continued to work in public relations, she met a physician in Sacramento whose daughter struggled with an eating disorder.
“He wanted to start an outreach program,” Lombardi said. “Through that, I met another provider who wanted to expand his small business.”
That was the start of Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program, where Lombardi is the director of admissions. The company has grown from 20 clients to 60.
Lombardi said that now that she is a clinician, she is relieved to learned that she did not suffer from vanity, nor was her family to blame.
But that is not the case for 7-to 10-million girls and women, nationwide.
“There was a research on who has risk factors,” Lombardi said. “They interviewed 500 first through third grade boys and girls — half of them had already tried dieting and half of them were afraid of getting fat.”
Lombardi stressed early intervention and treatment for anyone who might be suffering from classic traits and symptoms.
With an average age onset of early adolescent — age 14 to 15 and again at 17 to 20 — the disease is not selective of who it hits.
“It’s everyone. The perception that this is only for Caucasian, wealthy, young females is not true. We’ve seen children as young as 7 and our oldest adult was 67,” Lombardi said. “If left untreated for more than a year, it has the highest death rate of any mental illness. Serious complications may also occur — osteoporosis by age 13, ruptured esophagus, cancer of the esophagus. Some of the symptoms can be permanent and irreversible. They need treatment to recover.”
The illness is more noticeable during the spring and summer months when people start dabbling with risky dieting behavior.
“The warm-weather months are typically a time of year when eating disorders begin to develop. And it’s no wonder — if you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you’ve seen the celebrity magazines laden with cover stories about ‘The Best and the Worst Beach Bodies,’” Mohr said. “It is no wonder an estimated 10 million females and another million males in the United States suffer from an eating disorder.”
Genetics loads the gun, but society pulls the trigger — and fortunately not every person who dabbles with it will develop a disorder, Lombardi said.
But for those who do, SEDOP is there.
The program provides a safe, supportive and nurturing environment where people can heal from the guilt, shame and destructive thinking that can often accompany anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and compulsive eating.
The program offers a four to six weeks — five days a week — day treatment. They also offer the next level, which is an extensive eight to 12-weeks program of up to 12 hours a week. Many insurances cover the programs, Lombardi said.
Free apartment housing — located in a gated, secure community within walking distance of the program — is offered to clients who live outside the Sacramento area during the day program treatment.
“The work is very challenging and emotional and intense but it’s also rewarding and meaningful,” Lombardi said. “I am passionate about my work and can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045, or firstname.lastname@example.org.