Karin Lewis has lost a parent. She’s been a graduate student. She has suffered serious injuries and the death of a friend when a fourth-floor balcony collapsed. But she says the toughest thing she ever did was overcome anorexia nervosa.
“The thing I’m the proudest of is recovering from anorexia. I wear it like a badge,” she said, noting she’s had no issues with eating healthy for the past 17 years.
Lewis, a 1987 graduate of Andover High School and therapist, has returned to the area and opened the Eating Disorder Center of Andover, with co-owner and nutritionist Rhys Wyman. The center is at 68 Main St., above CVS.
“I think people have a misconception that once you have it, you always have it. That’s a crock. You can fully recover,” Lewis said. “I’ve been through the loss of a parent and I never returned to my eating disorder to get through it. People need to know they can get through [difficult patches] and not use an eating disorder.”
Lewis’ own personal story is this: After her years at Sanborn Elementary, West Junior High and Andover High, she went off to Emerson College to be a writer. While she believes she looked confident on the outside, she said she had issues with growing up, with her looks and with feeling that she did not belong. At 20, she decided she would make a real effort to lose about 10 pounds.
“I started losing weight and people noticed and started saying how great I looked. I was like, ‘Really?’ because I felt horrible inside,” she said. Soon she was turning away food and over-exercising.
“I never felt like I was good enough. Then I got to college and became the best [at losing weight], until I abused it and it became an eating disorder,” she said. “Other things were too difficult for me to look at. I thought I was very good at this and obviously went too far.”
Lewis said that by the time people started to tell her she looked unhealthy it was too late. She couldn’t stop herself from restricting food and exercising too much. Eventually, she collapsed, was taken to the hospital and was taken out of college.
“It was very different 20 years ago. There were no treatment centers,” she said. “I struggled on my own to get through it. My family struggled on their own with it.”
Eventually, with the help of therapy, she was able to realize she was focusing on her weight rather than dealing with the issues that were truly bothering her, such as a fear of having to grow up and fit in.
At 26, Lewis was on a balcony that collapsed and broke the bones in her face. The life-changing event sent her back to graduate school, where she quickly realized she wanted to focus on helping those with eating disorders.
Lewis met her co-owner, Wyman, the dietitian who works with people with eating disorders, about three years ago. One day at dinner, she told him about her plans to open a center. By the end of dinner, they were partners, as Wyman was excited by the idea of group therapy and being able to help more people with their nutrition, said Lewis.
“Clients adore him. They feel so safe with him,” said Lewis.
Lewis lived in California for 17 years before returning to Massachusetts and opening a practice about two and a half years ago. She just completed the Department of Public Health survey that allows the new Eating Disorder Center of Andover to be a licensed facility.
Lewis believes that, because she can speak from personal experience, her clients can feel confident she understands, and that they can succeed.
“I wasn’t afraid of dying of an eating disorder. I was afraid of living [as I was],” she said. Medical scares or people yelling at those with eating disorders won’t change their behavior, said Lewis. But, day by day, people can learn how to deal with it.
“The eating disorder didn’t start overnight and you can’t resolve it overnight,” said Lewis. “For me, it was a lot of therapy. Hence, that’s why I’m a therapist.
“It’s a torturous disorder. It’s a debilitating disorder. And it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Lewis. “It’s an emotional struggle and there shouldn’t be any [judgment] associated with it.”
Open House tonight, Nov. 8 Co-owners Karin Lewis and Rhys Wyman will have an open house tonight, Thursday, Nov. 8, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. to show their new treatment center to the community and potential clients. The Eating Disorder Center of Andover is at 68 Main St., Suite 5. "We're very proud of our space. We're right above CVS. We're right here in town," said Lewis. "It's a very warm, non-judgmental environment. I just want people to see it. I think they'll have a very different idea of what therapy is like." Last month, Lewis and Wyman hosted an open house for fellow health care professionals. Lewis is a therapist and Wyman is a dietitian who work with people with eating disorders.