Secret Ingredient

Posted on December 08, 2016 by StayConnected

alexa-muleeAt Oliver-Pyatt Centers, the highest quality of care is provided to the women who entrust their recovery journey in our dedicated team. Primary Therapist Alexa Mulee, MS, RMHCI shares what this care looks like at OPC, along with the secret ingredient that makes full recovery possible. 

Nutritional counseling, individual therapy, around the clock staff support, cooking groups, co-occurring interventions, group therapy, daily activities and outings, and on-site medical and psychiatric support. These are just some of the comprehensive accommodations that Oliver-Pyatt Centers offers our clients on a daily basis. However, without one simple ingredient added to this mixture, all of these operations would not be of the quality that we are lucky to see here every day. That vital ingredient is connection.

Connection, in other words, is the state of harmonious understanding between individuals that creates an environment that breeds communication, respect and most importantly, trust. For a moment, travel back to a time in your life that brings up some struggles, shame, sadness, anxiety. Try to remember what this experience felt like for you. Get in touch with some of the thoughts you may have had in those difficult moments. Now, imagine being in that same state, going to an entirely new place that you’ve never seen, with a bunch of people you have never met, to talk about your those most sensitive struggles for about 12 hours of the day, every day, for a few months. Now think…what kind of people would you want to be surrounded with?  What qualities would you want them to have? Chances are, you would want to have comforting, safe, and trustworthy people around you.

This is what our girls go through every single day, feeling at their most vulnerable and raw. We are the comforting, safe, trustworthy pieces that they are so desperately searching for in their moment of need. How are we sure that we can provide that for them you ask? Connection! From the moment we meet our women upon admission, we are striving to achieve a special connection with them that will allow them to get the most out of their treatment process. A polite smile in passing, a gentle “how are you doing’, remembering a particular detail someone shared with you once about their life and making eye contact when communicating can all be small but powerful ways we foster this connection. Too often, companies get caught up with offering state of the art accommodations, programs, and professional procedures, all the while overlooking the simple yet incredible strength of the human connection. Luckily here at OPC, we offer both!

For more information about Oliver-Pyatt Centers, please call 866.511.HEAL (4325), visit our websitesubscribe to our blog, and connect with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and Instagram

Mary Dye_MPH RD CEDRD LDN_Director of Nutrition Services

Oliver-Pyatt Centers Director of Nutrition Services Mary Dye, MPH, RD, CDN, LD/N shares about the Intuitive Eating Model in this week’s blog post. Mary gives insight into how OPC supports clients to lay a foundation of intuitive eating so that they are able to improve their relationship with food on their recovery journey. 

Sometimes, when eating disorder professionals hear of intuitive eating, they aren’t sure how this method can be incorporated into treatment at higher levels of care. The concept of listening to the body’s internal cues sounds like an ideal long-term goal for a person who has imposed strict and maybe even aggressive dietary guidelines on themselves. However, the reality for an individual living with an eating disorder, requires nutritional structure to ensure adequate nourishment and re-engagement of cues while working through all aspects of treatment. Oliver-Pyatt Centers’ nutrition programming, often referred to as an Intuitive Eating model, utilizes individualized, structured meal plans while assisting clients in increasing their awareness, understanding and ability to appropriately respond to innate cues with increasing autonomy over time. Throughout treatment, mindful eating practices and participation in thoughtfully planned, supported food exposures serve as the basis of each client’s journey toward the goal of full recovery, freedom and flexibility with food.

An individual with an eating disorder typically has little to no awareness, connection or ability to appropriately respond to their bodily cues. A key characteristic of the eating disorder is disassociation- a person comes to disregard their body’s hunger and fullness cues for so long that they forget what it feels like to be comfortably hungry for a meal and what it feels like to be satiated after eating. Our work is to reorient our clients with their own body’s language. As they work towards making peace with food, movement, and their bodies, we continually draw their attention back to their own experience- we ask them over and over again to describe what is happening in their body in the present moment. We do this first by having them assess their hunger and fullness on a scale of 0-10; zero being empty, and ten being painfully full. We also ask them to explore how these cues equate to emotional hunger and fullness. On empty, a person is experiencing cognitive deterioration or numbness, while when painfully full, the sensation is profound and distracting. During the initial phases of nutritional restoration, a client’s hunger and fullness cues are all over the scale and this can be confusing and quite anxiety provoking for the individual. However, as the body is restored to health and becomes accustomed to the routine of the meal plan laid out by the nutritional team, these cues start to fall in a less extreme and more comfortable range where hunger and fullness are experienced more gently and predictably. By noticing hunger and fullness in more comfortable, and less distressing ranges of sensation, clients learn to better recognize their body’s physical needs and address them before they become unmanageable.

Another key aspect of nutritional philosophy at Oliver-Pyatt Centers is the way we incorporate the Principles of Exposure Response Prevention Therapy to guide our client’s supported interactions with food. Because of our intimate staff to client ratio, we are able to provide a high volume of exposure experiences in a controlled and safe setting. We remind clients that exposures must be repeated and while there is a peak in shame, anxiety, and disassociation, we find that overtime maladaptive responses decrease. To support our clients through daily exposures, meals are reported in a safe setting just prior to exposure experience and intentions for that specific meal are set in a focused and supported environment. These built in, habitual exposures are paired with individualized challenges to address specific eating disorder behaviors and beliefs. We work with clients to quell their anxieties in the moment to work through challenges early on as they continue towards the goal of mindful connection to their experience in the moment.

Throughout each client’s treatment stay, we work to lay a foundation of mindful, and eventually intuitive eating, with the goal of reconnecting mind and body. We believe that after following treatment recommendations and continuing to work toward full recovery, our clients are capable of making peace with food through intuitive eating.

For more information about Oliver-Pyatt Centers, please call 866.511.HEAL (4325), visit our websitesubscribe to our blog, and connect with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and Instagram


Karin Lawson, Psy.D., CEDS, RYT is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified eating disorder specialist in Miami, Florida. After serving as a clinical director at Oliver-Pyatt Centers for 5 years, Karin continues her passion in private practice. She is certified in Curvy Yoga, which promotes making yoga accessible and body positive regardless of age, ability or size. In her today’s post, Karin reminds us about the importance of practicing gratitude and some helpful ways to do so. 

Given that this is the month of Thanksgiving in the United States, of course I couldn’t post without acknowledging the psychological benefits of attending to gratitude. You might brush this off as simply a feel good activity that has no long term effects, but actually naming our gratitude and giving it some space in our lives can literally change our brain. Psychologist Rick Hanson discusses our negativity bias as humans in his book Hardwiring Happiness and on his blog. He discusses how our brains are naturally wired to overestimate threats, underestimate opportunities, and underestimate resources. Therefore, we need an intentional effort to get this natural bias going in a different direction. It also explains why the work of recovery is so daunting at times. It’s work, not magic!

Instead of looking at the big picture and feeling overwhelmed at the concept of rewiring the brain, for now, let us simply take a slow deep breath and know that one intentional positive action at a time literally builds a better life and a more balanced brain. We are not destined to be negatively biased, if we are willing to be an agent in creating change for ourselves. Literally taking that deep breath I just mentioned, allows our parasympathetic nervous system to calm us down a notch or two, which then creates more openness (less threat) and therefore more ease (not to be confused with easy) in our efforts to change our thinking. So, take a few more deep breaths, I will wait right here.

Now, consider 5 things that you are grateful for in your life. Engaging in a movement (even a slight one) like writing, wiggling our fingers or taking five steps can support the integration of these attitudes of gratitude as we contemplate them. As I practice this alongside you today, after my deep breaths, I’m taking some steps across my backyard acknowledging an appreciation for my first lemon tree filled with lemons, my two personality-filled kitty cats, my friendly neighbors, the current weather and the ability to walk. I’m also grateful to know that if you’re reading this in your recovery journey that you are invested in altering that negativity bias. This is evidence you are using your resources, such as the Oliver-Pyatt Centers blog.


For more information about Oliver-Pyatt Centers, please call 866.511.HEAL (4325), visit our websitesubscribe to our blog, and connect with us on FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.



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