Welcome to the Eating Anxiety Treatment (EAT) laboratory!
By Cheri A. Levinson, Ph.D.
I thought I would take some time to write about who we are and what inspired us to start this lab. The EAT lab is directed by me, Cheri Levinson. I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Louisville in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Other members of the laboratory include Leigh Brosof, Ben Calebs, Laura Fewell, Lauren Fournier, and hopefully soon, some new undergraduate research assistants (apply here if you are interested in joining the laboratory). The EAT lab is dedicated to research leading to the development of novel treatments for eating disorders. That means that all of the research we do will hopefully lead to treatments that can decrease the extreme suffering that occurs for both patients and their families because of an eating disorder.
I first became interested in eating disorders and eating disorder research as an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky. Many of my friends had eating disorders (which is unfortunately very, very common in a college population), and when I started working in an eating disorder research lab as an undergraduate research assistant I realized that I could actually help my friends (and others) by studying and learning how to treat eating disorders. During graduate school, my research focused on the overlap between social anxiety and eating disorders. I used what I learned about anxiety to inform my approach to eating disorders (individuals with eating disorders experience huge amounts of anxiety). I was also fortunate to have clinical experiences at an eating disorder clinic where I really got to see firsthand what those with eating disorders experience.
After graduate school, my clinical internship was at the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders.
During internship I spent a full year immersed in learning about eating disorders, including available treatments and how to apply treatments to patients with a wide range of eating disorders. I was able to work in all levels of eating disorder care, including inpatient, partial hospitalization, outpatient, and patient assessment. Working on an inpatient eating disorder unit is a life-changing experience. I was treating extremely sick individuals (for example: some had body mass indexes of less than 10). Even while these patients were extremely sick (and even near death), they were lovely, kind, and giving individuals.
Unfortunately, current treatments for severe eating disorders (and eating disorders in general) are not so great. A large percentage of patients relapse repeatedly, bouncing from treatment center to treatment center, and what is even scarier is that a lot of these patients die from their eating disorder. In fact, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. So you can see why we need better treatments. That is where the EAT lab comes in to play. We want to help reduce the repeated relapse, suffering, and mortality that occur because of eating disorders. We are starting new research specifically designed with the hope of developing treatments that can help reduce these problems (read about our research here and here).
We are also EXTREMELY excited to be doing this work in Louisville, Kentucky. As a native of Louisville, I am thrilled that our lab can bring awareness, services, and research opportunities back to my home state. I loved growing up in Louisville, but what always struck me was that anyone who needed mental health treatment often had to travel far away to receive help. Louisville is a fantastic city, but unfortunately has a dearth of services for eating disorders (as does the entire state) (read the Courier-Journal article about the need for eating disorder treatment in Louisville). To help address this scarcity of services, I will be providing treatment for eating disorders and supervising students who can treat eating disorders at a local outpatient clinic (read about the clinic here).
We are hopeful that our lab and the Behavioral Wellness Counseling Clinic will help fill this need in the Louisville community (and in the state of Kentucky). Eating disorders are serious, scary, and life-shattering illnesses. If you or anyone you know has an eating disorder, please reach out (if not to us then to someone else you trust). If you have ever had an eating disorder and are in recovery, please also reach out, as we have research opportunities available that can help others who are still suffering (most of our research opportunities are available to anyone who has or has had an eating disorder even if you do not live in Kentucky).