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Petaluma-based Eating Disorders Recovery Services is spreading the word on recovery during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

The images are everywhere: beautiful women with perfectly thin bodies. It?s an image women are bombarded with every day and a standard many young girls are destroying themselves to achieve.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders affect 7 million women and 1 million men. Early adolescence to early adulthood, particularly between the ages of 11 to 17, are considered the times for increased vulnerability for eating disorders.

The good news is that recovery is possible ? a message that Petaluma-based Eating Disorders Recovery Services is sharing during Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which runs through March 3 in Sonoma County.

?Eating Disorders cause so much pain ? for the individual, and for the families who care so much about them,? said Joan Thompson of Eating Disorders Outreach for the Petaluma Health Care District.

For the past six years, Thompson has also facilitated a support group for family members dealing with a loved one with an eating disorder.

One Petaluma mom, who asked that her name be withheld, has lived through the heartache of having a loved one with an eating disorder, but she also expressed that there is hope for recovery. ?My daughter, who is now 22, suffered from bulimia. It was terrifying. I knew that eating disorders could be fatal. I could not bear to think of my daughter dying. Our greatest gift was that she was willing to do the very emotional work that recovery requires.

?I encourage those families to be a stronghold of love and a stronghold of hope for their children ? recovery is possible. My daughter had the incredible support of Michelle Minero and of Ronnie Benjamin, an incredible nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders. It is because of that work that my daughter is now a very wise young woman, knowing what is truly important in life.?

Petaluma marriage and family therapist Michelle Minero, founder of EDRS, is eight years into her own recovery from compulsive overeating. Her personal journey is what fueled her desire to establish EDRS, which began as a Web site project.

?I had decided to put various eating disorder resources on my personal Web site,? said Minero. ?My practice is full and the problem was that I was having a hard time finding therapists to refer people to. I started thinking, ?what if I put other therapists? names on my site, ones that offer free or low-fee services?? There are so many people who slip through the cracks because they don?t have the money or insurance for therapy. There are quite a few services out there, but people don?t know about them. That?s the intention of my site ? to tell them.?

Visitors to www.edrs.net will find a number of local resources including where to find therapists, doctors and dietitians as well as information on support groups and residential treatment programs. The EDRS also has a lending library located in Minero?s office at 320 Western Ave. The library contains a number of books on eating disorders and recovery that anyone interested may check out. Minero eventually hopes to have CDs and DVDs available.

?Teresa Jensen, who was librarian for the Redwood Health Library is working on a DVD for parents on how to handle eating disorders,? said Minero. ?That?s coming out soon and will be available at the lending library.?

The purpose of the EDRS is to make sure that the people who need help, find it. ?In the late 1980s I started a support group, and the people in the group were so discouraged that they couldn?t lose weight on diets. They kept thinking that something was the matter with them,? Minero said. ?But the truth is that it?s not about losing weight, but about feeling good about ourselves and loving ourselves. That?s the subject of a book I?m writing now titled ?The Only Diet that Works: Self Love.?

Minero said that eating disorders are not really about food, but about everything else. The key to recovery, she said, is learning to love yourself. ?I have people come through my doors saying that ?my daughter is starving herself? or ?She?s bingeing and purging.? When people do that, it?s not because they are looking to have a certain body type, they?re looking for a sense of connection. They want to be loved and valued, but they are trying to do that from the outside. You have to love yourself from the inside out. That?s the challenge. When I?m talking to people, they can look at anyone else around them and think they are beautiful, but when they talk about themselves, they say they are worthless, ugly or fat. Self-loathing is huge and that is what we have to target.?

Minero encourages other eating disorder health care professionals who would like to have their services listed on the EDRS Web site to e-mail their information to michelleminero@comcast.net. The Web site is still a work in progress, and Minero said that anyone wishing to donate some time to the development of the site may also contact her.

For more information on EDRS and Eating Disorders Awareness Week, visit www.edrs.net.

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at yovanna.bieberich@arguscourier.) com)