The self-doubt started when she was 11.
As a young track star and figure skater growing up in Philadelphia in the ‘80s, Sarah Levin was acutely aware of her weight and food intake, which manifested into eating disorders in her early twenties.
“When my appendix ruptured at the age of seven, I was in the hospital for a week, and all of the other kids on the ward got fruit loops,” Levin recalled. “I remember feeling, ‘Oh my god I shouldn’t want fruit loops.”’
In the United States, 9% of the population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Each year, there are 10,200 deaths caused by an eating disorder — that’s one death every 52 minutes.
From a young age, Levin’s father, who was a well-known doctor, frequently commented on her weight. He worked long hours and suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which she said manifested in him being hypercritical of her and others. In 2007, after going through a divorce and enrolling in medical school, she began experiencing anorexia and bulimia and went in and out of inpatient treatment programs numerous times over the next five years.
Levin can’t point to a specific turning point in her life, but she started to feel a shift in her mind and body. She was tired of letting her illness define and dictate her life. She started seeking treatment that helped her dig into her underlying childhood trauma. Today, Levin, 42, is helping others do the same as a mental health therapist in private practice in Thornton, Colorado, specializing in eating disorders, trauma and addiction.
“As someone who has experienced an eating disorder, I aim to help my clients find the root of the problem and address it as soon as possible,” Levin said.
After Levin graduated in 2001 from college at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, she went to Alaska to work in public health. The experience inspired her to attend medical school at Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine. It was during medical school that her eating disorders started to wreak havoc on her life. Restricting her eating helped her feel in control.
“When you starve yourself you are quieting the noise,” Levin said. “It condensed my world into a tiny little container that I could open and close.”
“Everybody in my class basically knew,” she added. “I could tell they were thinking ‘What's wrong with her?’ … It was like I was underwater and was struggling to surface.”
As the disorder became more life-threatening, her doctors told her she had to either be hospitalized or get a feeding tube put in to keep her alive. She chose the latter so she wouldn’t miss school.
“I was so physically depleted that my brain had started to consume itself,” Levin said. “It was awful. You’re really in a state of survival because your executive functioning is pretty much gone.”
Her loved ones could see her deteriorating.
“It was like watching someone you love slowly drown in front of your eyes, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Greg Levin, her older brother.
After Levin quit medical school in 2009, she decided to become a therapist to help others like her find recovery. She’s been there, she said, so she can use her experiences to help others.
“I know exactly how my clients feel because I felt the exact same thing,” Levin said. “I try to find aspects of my client’s life that they're interested in and help them focus on those things aside from the eating disorder.”
Levin attended Naropa University in Boulder and graduated in 2016. During her studies, she helped paint a mural in Denver, which led her to explore art therapy. She now offers the practice to her clients. From personal experience, she understands how hard it is to recover from an eating disorder and how important it is to have support.
“I always tell my clients’ families that it’s a group effort, and everyone has to be involved,” Levin said.
During her recovery, she said her family was her biggest support system. While she was in an inpatient treatment program in Denver, her dad joined a family therapy session.
“In front of about 50 people, he started crying and said, ‘Sarah, I'm so sorry—this is my fault. I wish I had never said those things to you,’” Levin recalled, as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Since she got out of the hospital and left medical school, Levin has regained her life outside of the eating disorder. She took up ice skating again, continued making art, and is, somewhat jokingly, focused on keeping her precious indoor plants alive, she said.
“It allows me to look beyond myself,” Levin said.
When she started volunteering with the Children’s Hospital Child Life Program, the time spent working and playing with kids was almost a wake-up call.
“Just because you’re sick doesn’t mean you can’t live,” Levin said.
There was a problem reporting this post.
Please confirm you want to block this member.
You will no longer be able to:
Please note: This action will also remove this member from your connections and send a report to the site admin. Please allow a few minutes for this process to complete.