It took Jennifer Lombardi nearly five years to overcome anorexia.
Lombardi, 39, grew up in Porterville, south of Merced County. She was 17 when she became anorexic.
At that time, there was limited treatment in the Valley, and insurance companies didn't cover the treatment, she recalled.
That has changed.
Insurance companies are now able to pay for treatment under the Mental Health Parity Law, and more resources are available for patients.
The Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program is a treatment and prevention team in Central and Northern California. Lisa Petersen, clinical director for the summit, was in Merced on Tuesday to spread the word about issues surrounding eating disorders. She was scheduled to speak to students at UC Merced. "We try to get out just to do some outreach in the area," she explained.
Petersen said eating disorders record highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
There are three main types of eating disorders -- anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, about 10 million women and 1 million men are battling an eating disorder such as anorexia and bulimia. Millions more are suffering from binge-eating.
Petersen said issues with eating disorders haven't improved over the years. "It's only gotten worse," she added.
Society, personality traits and a family's history of anxiety and depression are among the factors that contribute to eating disorders, Petersen said. For example, "there's more pressure to be thin" nowadays.
Petersen said anorexia can be identified by a sudden or drastic weight loss, loss of menstrual cycles in women, being consumed with constant thoughts of being overweight and having an intense fear of gaining weight. Bulimia can be identified similarly, except that a bulimic person will also have sudden tooth decay as a result of vomiting acid.
Binge-eating can be identified if suddenly there are several food items missing in the kitchen, Petersen said. A person with a binge-eating disorder will overeat in secret.
It's important for an eating disorder to be diagnosed at an early stage before it can get more serious, Petersen said. Just as with any other illness, the longer a patient takes to receive treatment, the harder it will be to recover. "It's not that simple to stop eating or to begin eating," she said. "It's like any other addiction."
Men are less likely to seek medical treatment, she said.
Petersen said there are various treatment options for eating disorders. For example, the summit offers an outpatient program, where a patient comes in three days a week. It also offers a day treatment program, where a person comes in five days a week.
Insurance companies cover the treatment for anorexia and bulimia because they are recognized as a serious mental disorder, Peterson said. Binge-eating is under a different category and as a result some insurance companies will deny coverage.
Although eating disorders have a high mortality rate, a person is able to fully recover if he or she receives the appropriate treatment. That's evident with Lombardi, who is director of admissions at the summit.
Lombardi is now spreading awareness and helping patients with eating disorders. In the last seven years, the summit has provided treatment for some 20 patients from Merced County.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 388-6507, or firstname.lastname@example.org.