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New support group to help those with overeating problem

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Family Counseling Service of Northern New York will offer a 10-session support group for people struggling with overeating issues, beginning in mid-October.

“Disordered Eating Without Labels” seeks to offer initial treatment for people with an eating compulsion. The group will be led by Nancy E. Stark, mental health clinician.

“With the use of any substance — drugs, alcohol and food, either over- or under-eating, — there’s an underlying theme of self-medication through using the substance of choice,” she said. “The perspective is once we stop self-medicating with our substance of choice, we can identify and work through the emotions that are keeping us from living a whole life.”

The group, which will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays at the agency, 120 Washington St., Suite 510, beginning Oct. 15, will focus on sharing clinical information about emotions, individual processing and some peer support. Ms. Stark said one of the six following emotions will be discussed during each session: guilt, shame, helplessness, disappointment, confusion and loneliness. Through the group, she said, people will learn to distinguish when an emotion is rational or irrational.

“Emotions are our own internal compass or radar,” she said. “When events happen that mess up our intended radar, we use different coping strategies.”

For group participants, she said, that is overeating.

“‘Just say no’ does not work,” Ms. Stark said. “Let’s face it, food is harder because we have to have food. With substances, it’s do it or don’t. With food, it’s much trickier. That’s what’s keeping it under wraps — food is not illegal. It makes it less visible and you won’t be arrested; however, you will die earlier, be disabled earlier and be discriminated against in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.”

Ms. Stark knows all too well about the cycle of addiction and recovery. She has been in recovery from substance use for more than 20 years, and at one point inadvertently switched gears and then was losing weight too quickly. Running the group, she said, enhances her recovery and keeps her balanced.

Balance is what she hopes Disordered Eating Without Labels participants find after their 10-week sessions are up. If more help is needed, Family Counseling Service, or other local agencies, may be able to offer participants one-on-one services, Ms. Stark said.

Mental health help is only one component of treatment for people with an eating disorder or food addiction, Ms. Stark said. Professional help also often is sought through a physician and a nutritionist.

Family Counseling Service is looking for a minimum of six participants for the group, to help cover initial expenses. Sessions are $12 each, and participants are asked to follow the program through to the end. For more information, call the agency at 782-4483.

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