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'Telemedicine' helps people with anorexia buy groceries.

Byline: Juli Fraga The Washington Post

Individuals with anorexia, binge eating disorder and bulimia often feel anxious and overwhelmed when surrounded by food. This anxiety can make grocery shopping and cooking a challenge.

A new form of telemedicine in which people can video-chat with a nutritional counselor while at the supermarket aims to help.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 percent of Americans suffer from anorexia, a sometimes deadly psychiatric illness. Along with anorexia, millions of Americans also struggle with binge eating disorder.

Jamie Lynn Pelletier, 28, of Greensboro, North Carolina, was just 13 when she began counting calories and skipping meals, behavior that eventually led to anorexia, which is characterized by food restriction, extreme weight loss and distorted body image. Recently, Pelletier's dietitian recommended grocery store therapy, which allows her to connect with a dietitian via video chat.

"Going to the grocery store is stressful because seeing foods labeled as low-carb and low-fat can make me feel like buying the real thing is not OK. With virtual therapy, I FaceTime with my dietitian at the store," said Pelletier, referring to Apple's video chat application. "For privacy, I put in my headphones so I can talk to her discreetly while I'm shopping."

This type of treatment, known as exposure therapy, allows people to face their traumas, phobias and anxieties by gradually exposing them to the feared stimulus.

"The eating disorder treatment world has adapted exposure therapy to help people face their food fears. Grocery store therapy can be beneficial by allowing individuals to confront their anxieties with the support of a trusted health care provider," said Kelsey Latimer, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Discovery, a treatment facility for eating disorders in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Virtual grocery store therapy is relatively new, and there are no studies on its effectiveness.

But for Pelletier, it's been a vital part of her healing.

"At the grocery store, I get uneasy reading nutrition labels because I fixate on how many calories are in each food. With grocery store therapy, my dietitian talks me through my fears and reminds me that all foods, even carbohydrates and sweets, are good foods," she said.

Pelletier completed four sessions of grocery store therapy, which her insurance paid for. The treatment helped her realize that no one is judging her food choices or her appearance. Since finishing the treatment, she has been able to shop on her own.

Even though telemedicine can make aspects of eating disorder treatment more accessible, it isn't a replacement for in-person care, experts say. Pelletier continues to meet in person with a psychotherapist and a nutritionist regularly.

"While recovery is a journey, grocery store therapy gave me additional tools to help guide me through the process," she said.

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Title Annotation:Nation_
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:May 21, 2018
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