Marti LaTour and Michelle Klinedinst launched Viamar Health, which provides specialty services for the treatment of eating disorders, represented here by the elephant in the room. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Lona O'Connor
When Marti LaTour decided to join Michelle Klinedinst in launching a treatment facility for eating disorders, she wanted to be sure she knew exactly what she was getting into.
“The only thing I knew about eating disorders was Karen Carpenter,” she said, referring to the late pop singer.
She sat in on a therapy session, a sobering experience.
“I was the only one crying besides the person who was speaking,” said LaTour.
Klinedinst has decades of experience working with people with eating disorders and LaTour has a business background.
“Marti has connected on a deep level,” said Klinedinst. “It’s important to understand what we’re doing.”
LaTour, of Gulf Stream, and Klinedinst, of Singer Island, formed Viamar Health in November 2016 in West Palm Beach. Viamar offers a variety of therapies for adults and adolescents with eating disorders — group sessions, art, yoga, relaxation and meditation and nutrition education.
The National Institutes of Health defines eating disorders as serious and often fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors.
“People with eating disorders are very detached from their bodies, they distract themselves from feeling what their body feels like,” said LaTour. “We want them to listen to their bodies.”
Eating disorders, including bulimia, binge-and-purge and anorexia, have a higher mortality rate than major depressive disorders, LaTour said. Symptoms usually appear in adolescence. As eating disorders continue, they begin to damage the major organs. Patients can die of heart failure.
“The earlier you intervene, the better the chance of recovery,” says Klinedinst.
Clients get a meal plan from the dietitian, who monitors their consumption of food.
People with eating disorders often view circumstances around them as chaotic and seek to regain control at least over one aspect of their lives, by controlling what they eat.
“An eating disorder is one way you can control your world,” said Klinedinst. Clients with eating disorders can also suffer from anxiety disorders and depression.
Klinedinst worked for musician Eric Clapton, who founded the Crossroads Centre, a rehabilitation facility in Antigua. She developed the clinical program there, as well as other programs in Arizona and California.
“People search Michelle out,” said LaTour. “People who take care of people with eating disorders.”
People with eating disorders can be secretive, making it hard for loved ones to know what’s going on. They also tend to be high-functioning people who want to succeed.
“It’s so insidious,” said Klinedinst. “It starts to progress and the body starts to unravel.”
Klinedinst has treated people with body mass indexes of 8 (normal BMI is in the mid-20s) and one who weighed only 48 pounds.
Klinedinst’s team was able to save that patient.
“That’s why I do what I do,” she said.
Another of Klinedinst’s patients was a man who weighed 71 pounds. After successful treatment, he has returned to work to help others with similar problems, she said.
LaTour’s significant other is George Elmore, the founder of Hardrives Paving. They met on boards where they were both members.
“He was a great mentor for me,” she says.
Elmore put Klinedinst and LaTour together at a social occasion. “We hit it off right away,” says LaTour.
Klinedinst’s background is 20 years of training and supervising clinical psychologists and building counseling programs.
LaTour, whose expertise is finance, held a variety of executive positions in the Pepsi bottling business.
“When this opportunity came up, I thought that it was a lot more interesting,” said LaTour.
Viamar offers a six-hour-a-day partial hospitalization program, day and evening hours, family and group therapy sessions. Its staff includes a variety of licensed professionals and a dietitian. By mid-summer Viamar was working with 18 clients. Costs of treatment vary and are usually covered by insurance.
Klinedinst and LaTour are now planning to open Casita del Mar, a residential program in Juno Beach, for patients who are medically compromised by their eating disorders and need more extensive treatment.
“When they’re that compromised, they have to stay in bed, with intravenous feeding,” said Klinedinst. “They completely resist eating.”
Others who may be starting to eat food again can be so malnourished that they are in danger of heart attack, she said.
Two other forms of eating disorder are less obvious: exercise anorexia, when people exercise compulsively, and orthorexia, which includes people who eat only raw foods or juices or restrict calories or eat only certain healthy foods.
Neither exercise nor careful eating is dangerous in moderation. When such practices are followed to an extreme degree, an individual can endanger his or her health.
Klinedinst and LaTour are also making presentations to local schools, colleges and groups. They describe clients whose refrigerators are completely empty, who have to be gently led to grocery stores, which they have grown to fear, and taught by a nutritionist how to buy food.
“Your body is such an interesting and powerful instrument,” said LaTour. “People with eating disorders have to learn that. It’s really hard work. They are very brave.”
Lona O’Connor has a lifelong interest in health and healthy living. Send ideas to Lona13@bellsouth.net.