UF&Shands Eating Disorder Recovery Center opens its doors

The state of Florida’s first university inpatient treatment program for adults and adolescents suffering from anorexia, bulimia and other serious eating disorders opened Tuesday, Feb. 14 at the University of Florida and Shands.

Led by eating disorders expert Kevin Wandler, M.D., formerly the chief medical officer of one of the country’s top private eating disorders centers, the University of Florida Eating Disorder Recovery Center will provide more intensive care to patients who need the benefits of an around-the-clock program. The new program, housed at Shands Vista, will offer 24-7 evaluation and therapy.

Until now, patients who needed more advanced care have been sent to private recovery centers as far away as Arizona.

“My vision was to be able to bring the full continuum of care, from crisis and intensive inpatient evaluation and treatment to long-term therapies for eating disorders, to Gainesville,” said Wandler, an assistant professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and medicine in the UF College of Medicine and director of the Eating Disorder Recovery Center, who joined the UF faculty in August. “I am very excited by the progress that we have made in a very short time. The inpatient eating disorders program will be able to offer comprehensive evaluations and specialized eating disorders care to patients and families in Florida and around the nation.”

The new inpatient program includes hospitalization and partial hospitalization for adolescent and adult patients. How long patients stay in the center for treatment will depend on their specific conditions. While some patients might be ready to go home in two weeks, others may require three to four months in treatment, Wandler said. 

More than 10 million women and 1 million men in the United States have an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Eating disorders and substance abuse are particularly problematic among adolescents and college-age adults. To meet this growing challenge, the UF College of Medicine has invested in basic science and clinical research and has established the Florida Recovery Center for substance abuse, and now the Eating Disorder Recovery Center.

Treatment at the UF Eating Disorder Recovery Center will rely on different types of medical and psychological therapy to help patients develop healthier relationships with eating and learn new ways to manage their emotions. Patients will have a meal coach to guide and support them during meal and snack times, and they will take part in different types of behavioral therapy. 

“For most people, food is enjoyable and eating is fun,” Wandler said. “For most of my patients, food is very fearful. The ultimate goal is to be able to educate patients, get them medically stable and get them on the road to recovery.

Yoga, structured exercise and stretching therapy will also be available for patients, some of whom struggle with compulsive exercising.

“Exercise is great for depression and anxiety,” Wandler said. “There is nothing wrong with exercise, but it also needs to be practiced in moderation.” 

Often, patients with eating disorders also struggle with other conditions such as purging, depression, anxiety, nutritional and hormonal abnormalities and substance abuse. UF College of Medicine experts are available to help evaluate and treat patients for these conditions in addition to their eating disorders.

For more information about the Eating Disorders Recovery Center, please call 352-265-EDRC (3372).