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Health Aware: Candlelight Vigil for those with eating disorders

After treatment at Linden Oaks at Edward for an eating disorder she had through her teens and 20s, Jennifer Burton runs a fashion consulting business she describes as
After treatment at Linden Oaks at Edward for an eating disorder she had through her teens and 20s, Jennifer Burton runs a fashion consulting business she describes as "somewhat like the 'What Not to Wear,' TV show, but with more compassion.” | Submitted

Chicagoan Jennifer Burton, 30, describes her fashion consulting business as “somewhat like the ‘What Not to Wear,’ TV show, but with more compassion.” As she sorts through her clients’ closets, she culls and repurposes, suggests alterations, and compiles a shopping list.

“My goal is to help them feel good about themselves no matter what their size,” she says.

As someone who struggled with an eating disorder throughout her teens and 20s, Burton knows the importance of self-acceptance.

“From an early age, I felt pressure to look a certain way,” Burton says. “My mom was anorexic, and there were confusing messages about eating and body image.”

Burton’s role as a competitive tennis player contributed to her confusion. She wanted to be strong and energetic to compete, but her coaches cautioned her about gaining weight. As a young teen, she began to severely restrict her diet, but that didn’t have the desired effect.

She tried another approach after watching a movie about a girl with bulimia, an eating disorder that involves binge eating, followed by purging — usually by vomiting or using laxatives.

“Hiding my condition throughout high school was extremely draining,” Burton recalls.

At college in Boston, Burton felt isolated and depressed, and her condition worsened. She spent four months in treatment for her eating disorder and related serious medical issues.

When she returned to her parents’ home in Downers Grove, she struggled with a lack of structure and follow-up care. A month later, she went to Linden Oaks at Edward and began an intensive outpatient program for people with eating disorders.

“I loved the program and the people,” Burton says. “During this time, I was able to build a healthy support system in this area.”

She says staying connected with a support system is one of the most important elements in recovery — whether it’s family, friends or mental health professionals — because there’s someone to call when you’re struggling.

“I’ll be working on negative self-talk for the rest of my life, but I’m doing really well now,” she says. “My support system, including my family, deserves a lot of the credit for that. And the therapy I went through laid the foundation.”

She says building self-esteem and finding what she is passionate about helped, too.

“In my case, I studied design and, for a while, had my own fashion line for women of all sizes,” she says. “This was something I was good at and liked. And now I have my consulting business. Many women struggle with body image. I’m open about my struggles, and they can relate to me.”

The Linden Oaks Eating Disorders Program, designated a Center of Excellence by The Joint Commission, offers four levels of care to help individuals recover from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders. For more information, visit www.edward.org/eatingdisorders or call 630-305-5500. For a free mental health assessment, call the Linden Oaks 24/7 Help Line at 630-305-5027.

Linden Oaks and the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders will host the 11th annual Candlelight Vigil for those affected by eating disorders at 6 p.m. May 19 in the Linden Oaks Healing Garden on the campus of Edward Hospital, 801 S. Washington St. , Naperville. Jennifer Burton will speak at the event, which supports people fighting eating disorders, commemorates those who have lost their lives and celebrates people in recovery.

Health Aware is a weekly column courtesy of Edward Hospital.

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