La Luna Center

Boulder Eating Disorder Treatment

Body image: Boulder's pride can be students' risk. Promoting healthy body image in ultra-healthy Boulder

By Kate Jonuska For the Colorado Daily
Issue date:: 08/27/2013

Modern culture may have taken the moral of myth of Narcissus too much to heart. Granted, wasting away because you're too in love with your own reflection to move is not an advisable life choice, but neither is the increasingly common opposite: wasting your time, energy and self-esteem staring at your reflection with hatred.

"I actually feel sometimes like Boulder is eating disorder-genic," says Dr. Malia Sperry Clinical Director and founder of La Luna Center, in Boulder. The center houses a team of therapists, psychologists and nutritionists focused on disordered eating education and recovery. She says Boulder's celebration of fitness and thinness can turn into unhealthy social pressures, especially for young people. It's difficult to tell when restricting foods, dieting or extreme exercise are expressions of Boulder culture, signs of disordered eating or both.

"People are often like, 'Good for you for exercising all day.' It's socially acceptable, but it can get out of control," Dr. Sperry says. She believes the same can be true of extreme diets, like raw veganism or allergen-free diets. "For some, that's a completely true allergy and they have a good relationship with food, but for others, it's just a way to have a socially acceptable, negative relationship with food."

Full-blown eating disorders are diagnosable, but unhealthy body-image issues, while more subtle, are still of concern and seem more widespread than ever. Our local lifestyle is only one minor trigger for such issues in a culture that seems designed to make us hate ourselves. Whether in TV, magazines, movies, web sites or anywhere an ad can be plastered, themes of weight can't be escaped.

"Women even get together to complain about body parts," Sperry adds. "That's part of our culture, at any age, for the conversation to be about comparing thighs."

The good news is that the contagious nature of culture works both ways. You can shape your environment into one that's body positive instead of negative.

Find the root of the problem

Sometimes the first step is waking up to the fact that the problem is a culture that actively makes you hate your body, rather than your body itself being problematic.

"It is just a big norm in our culture to want to be thinner and to be negative about our bodies," says Anderson. "Once you realize the cultural and social pressures behind that, I think it's easier to stand up to pressure and to like your body. You realize that every day you're told your body is wrong so you can be sold stuff."

That stuff includes everything from diet pills and ab rollers to mascara, hair products and whitening toothpaste. People make money from your insecurity.

"If you think about how often you see not necessarily negative but altered images of what bodies look like, think about how much you see on TV or magazines or on the internet, looking at 'fitspo' and 'thinspo,'" says Anderson, using the common slang for fitness or thinness inspiration, "I think it's good to daily involve yourself in the opposite. Take same amount of time looking at body-affirming things."

She curates a body-positive Pinterest board, for instance, and points Facebookers toward a group called End Fat Talk.

No more 'fat talk'

"I feel fat."

"Do I look fat in these pants?"

"I shouldn't have dessert. It will go straight to my belly!"

These are but a few examples of fat talk, which is pervasive.

"You can't go to meal without getting a lecture about what someone can and can't eat and grams of fat per serving," says local nutritionist Donna Feldman. "That kind of person does not have a healthy relationship with food. They want you to join and affirm that attitude, and they don't make the best dinner guests."

Fat talk is obviously not necessarily a sign of an eating disorder, but it does contribute to an environment in which one can flourish.

"It's hard to fight it on your own and shrug it off when everyone is obsessed about a pound this way or that," Feldman says, adding that you'll likely get positive responses if you bring up banning fat talk amongst your friends and family.

There is no bad, only mindfulness

"One of the things we talk about (at La Luna) is trying to have a relationship with food where all foods are legal, not putting foods in 'good' and 'bad' categories," Sperry advises.

"Try to be mindful of hunger and fullness and really honor your body's cues. That sometimes means we have half a cookie and feel satisfied with that. Sometimes that means we have two cookies. It depends on your body's cues. It sounds so simple, but when dealing with disordered eating, it can feel so far away."

If you are eating to lose weight -- in a manner healthful for your body and your mind -- focus on portion size instead of good/bad delineations, says nutritionist Feldman, who also advocates mindfulness.

"Just eat real food. Eat normal, real food and make a point to taste it," she says. "That makes you slow down and appreciate, so your relationship with food becomes one of enjoyment or appreciation rather than punishment and reward."

Watch for compulsions

This is especially true of exercising, which is in generally a very healthy thing but can become a harmful compulsion.

"Now we've got something called exercise bulimia where the purging mechanism is exercise," says Feldman. "You eat a pretzel, so you feel a need to go run for an hour to burn off those calories. Again, eating is a guilty thing you need to do penance for."

Anderson adds, "If you're feeling very upset that something is preventing you from exercise, if you can't stand not to go for your run, that can be a sign." A compulsion to weigh yourself -- once a day, more than once a day -- can also be a signal that your body image is negatively affecting your life.

Get and give help

"I've never heard a patient say, 'I came in for treatment too soon.' I have heard tons say, 'I wish I had come in sooner,'" says Anderson, who advises that anyone (really, anyone who believes their body image is at all negatively affecting them) to seek help.

"If as a young adult you have any suspicion or concern that your eating or exercise might be a little problematic, go get it checked out by a mental health professional. Go to Wardenburg or CAPS. It's better to go see professional and know you're OK versus going without help."

She explains that eating disorders can become very serious very quickly, and that anorexia is the most deadly mental illness, percentage wise. More anorexics die -- of starvation, complications or suicide -- than patients who are depressed, bipolar or schizophrenic.

"I see women in their 30s that say it started their freshman year of college," Sperry says. "(Body image) is hard for all of us in this culture, but it's especially hard for young adults. They're just finding their identity. Feeling not-OK in your skin may be more of a challenge at that age and stage of life."

And if you suspect someone you care about might benefit from help, approach them from a perspective of love and concern rather than criticism, and try not to let it devolve into yet another, "No, I'm the fat one," thigh-comparison conversation.

Eating disorder treatment center opens in Fort Collins

Brian Anthony
Issue date: 1/22/09

In response to a National Eating Disorder Association survey that reported 20 percent of college students admitted to struggling with an eating disorder, health officials said that the college years pose some of the highest risks for disordered eating, exercise and body image.

Because there was no outpatient treatment center in Northern Colorado, La Luna center, a Boulder eating disorder treatment center, opened a branch in Fort Collins in March 2008 and started seeing patients regularly last fall.

Alexis Heimann, the office manager for the Boulder office said, "(The Boulder center) is the only treatment center in the county and it became apparent that it was needed because of the high prevalence of eating disorders in the area."

After seeing the success that the Boulder center had, Clinical Director of La Luna's Fort Collins' office Dr. Diana Hill said they opened the new branch because there was a "deficit of resources in Northern Colorado."

The center treats all forms of disordered eating including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, and Hill said La Luna tries to improve their patients through in-depth programs depending on the patient's unique case.

She added that many of La Luna's clients do not meet diagnostic criteria for the "textbook" categories of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorders but "suffer greatly in their relationship with food, exercise, and their body."

Hill attributed disordered eating among college-age people to the "Freshman 15" myth that assumes college students gain 15 or more pounds their freshman year.

"Research conducted at Tufts University and Washington University with almost 1,000 students has found that just because you come to college you are not guaranteed to gain 15 pounds," she said. "Weight may fluctuate, but it does so in a much smaller range."

Hill said, too, that there are other reasons for the growing problem, including the stress and significant changes in eating patterns when students start college. Extreme social pressures placed on body shape and weight, psychological and biological influences are among other factors.

La LUna Center offers a variety of treatment options including individual and group counseling as well was nutrition therapy. When asked about benefits of a group setting, Dr. Hill said "Patients learn to live a healthier life, develop positive life skills and have the opportunity to support each other's progress during group meetings."

"Eating disorders are curable" and Hill added, "At La Luna Center we believe that freedom from disordered eating is possible and that individuals can fully recover from their eating disorder."

A FREE Friends and Family meeting is offered the first Tuesday of each month, from 6:00 pm to 7:30 p.m. at La Luna Center located at 3926 JFK Parkway, Fort Collins CO, 80525. For more information about La Luna Center or to schedule a FREE initial consulation check out or call the Fort Collins office at 970 744 9292. Recovery is Possible!


Curves & Lines

La luna center promotes better relationships with food

By ERIN LOVE, Boulder Women's Magazine

Unhealthy relationships with food and negative body images plague women of all ages, and these struggles are juxtaposed with the media's fixation on young, super-thin women. It's hard to see how anyone could find her way back to a healthy self-acceptance, but one local organization gives women a place to turn to.

La Luna Center opened its doors in 2004 to assist Boulder women who suffer from harmful relationships with food. La Luna Center is an outpatient treatment center for women of all ages with medically diagnosed eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, as well as those who suffer from less dangerous eating habits or compulsive exercise.

Malia Sperry, Ph.D., is La Luna's founder. She initially thought the center would primarily serve the student population. But Sperry was wrong.

After La Luna opened its doors, many of the calls received were from women over the age of 30 seeking treatment and freedom from years of struggling with unhealthy relationships to food.

“Most of the women that come to La Luna are self-motivated,” Sperry said. “It's a readiness issue. By the time women are in their thirties, I think they are sick of their eating disorder.”

In a country where as many as ten million females and one million males are affected by a serious eating disorder, and the diet industry rakes in $109 million a day on average, it seems America has a long way to go toward creating healthy alliances with food.

Eating disorders often begin with dieting. Not only does dieting support the myth that a sense of worth is based on how we look, but it also doesn't work long-term. A whopping 95 percent of all dieters gain back the weight lost within one to five years and children that diet are more likely to become overweight as adults and develop eating disorders.

One study found that 70 percent of sixth grade girls surveyed first became concerned about their weight between the ages of nine and 11 years old.

However, eating disorders can affect women at any point in their lives. According to Alisa Shanks, Ph.D., eating disorder clinician at the University of Colorado Wardenburg Health Center, there have typically been two spikes in the timeline for onset of eating disorders. The first occurs at puberty and the second during college. Shanks also noticed another onset period referred to as “the desperate housewives effect” - affecting women in their forties and fifties.

There are four medical diagnoses of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa - characterized by being too thin to support good health, developing unusual eating habits and having an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming “fat.”
  • Bulimia nervosa - characterized by recurrent episodes of bingeing and purging and often includes a misuse of laxatives, fasting and excessive exercise to rid the body of calories.
  • Binge-eating disorder - characterized by frequent episodes of out-of-control eating without the purging of bulimia and may include eating large amounts in a small amount of time, eating until uncomfortably full and eating in secret.
  • Eating disorder not otherwise specified - characterized by a combination of the above symptoms that don't fit neatly into one of the medical categories.

Even more common than medically diagnosed eating disorders are the behaviors associated with so-called “disordered eating”: restrictive dieting and bingeing and purging irregularly, often in response to stressful events, changes in personal appearance or preparation for an athletic event.

“The eating disorder often serves a lot of purposes,” Sperry said. “It's not about the food, but it plays out with food. It can be a coping tool for underlying emotional issues.”

The reasons behind eating disorders and disordered eating are multi-layered and usually have roots in long-standing behavioral, social, cultural, interpersonal and emotional factors. There is evidence to show that the condition runs in families as well.

Some of the conditions that coexist with eating disorders are psychological, including anxiety, depression, loneliness and anger.

Eventually eating disorders can have serious effects on the physical body, even resulting in death. The adverse effects on the body include heart complications, seizures, irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, osteoporosis and damage to the esophagus, teeth and gums.

Sperry and Shanks emphasize that it's not important to meet any specific criteria when considering if you have an injurious relationship with food or exercise. If thinking about food or body image is taking up too much of your time and energy and begins interfering with your life, you should talk to a professional.

At La Luna, treatment often involves reconnecting a woman with her body's inherent hunger and fullness cues, which most patients have lost touch with, said Sperry. The center offers one-on-one counseling, group sessions, nutrition coaching, an intensive outpatient program and a sliding scale for those who need it. There is never a charge for the initial consultation.

La Luna Center is located at 3002 Bluff St., Boulder. Call 303-440-3309 or visit

Into the flesh
Touch therapies help victims of eating disorders reconnect with their bodies

by Tyler Wilcox, Boulder Weekly
June 2 - June 9, 2005

In the United States, eating disorders have reached epidemic levels. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia affect nearly 10 million women and one million men, primarily teens and young adults-and that's going by conservative estimates. Boulder is no exception. According to Alisa Shanks, Ph.D., who handles eating disorder treatment and assessment for CU-Boulder's Psychological Health and Psychiatry Division, the university's rate of eating disorders is well above the national average-a statistic that likely applies to the rest of the city's population as well.

What's most troubling about the eating disorder problem is that there's no guaranteed cure; what works for one person may not work for another.

"As a clinician and just as a person, I don't think there's one way of treating an eating disorder," says Malia Sperry, the program director at the Boulder-based La Luna Center, a facility devoted to eating disorders and related conditions. "It all depends on the individual."

As a result, there are several therapeutic tools (in addition to traditional psychotherapy) that are now being used to help people with eating disorders. These tools share a focus on the positive aspects of the body; they are about what feels good, not what feels bad. For a person who has a negative perception of or a bad relationship with his or her body, time spent experiencing the body in positive ways can be a powerful part of the healing process.

"We're just trying to find positive ways of being connected with the body," Sperry says. "We want a lot of options available."

Here's a closer look at a few of these options:

Massage therapy

"The power of healthy touch cannot be underestimated," says Elizabeth Menzel, a Boulder-based professional healer and massage therapist. "It's so simple, but it can have such a profoundly healing effect."

She should know. Over the past 13 years, Menzel has used massage therapy to help not only people with eating disorders, but also abused children and drug-addicted babies. The results of massage therapy techniques on all these in-need individuals have been extremely beneficial.

"Just being touched with love in a non-threatening, non-judgmental and non-sexual way can set someone on the path to better self-care," Menzel says.

Clinical studies back up her claim. In a 1987 study carried out by the American Psychiatric Association, 24 female adolescent bulimic inpatients were randomly assigned to a massage therapy or a standard treatment group. The results were good right off the bat: The patients who received massage showed immediate reductions in anxiety and depression. By the last day of the therapy, they had lower depression scores, lower cortisol (stress) levels, higher dopamine levels, and showed improvement on several other psychological and behavioral measures. These findings suggested that massage therapy is effective as an adjunct treatment for bulimia. A similar study-this time with anorexic women-conducted by researchers at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine also saw generally beneficial results.

At La Luna Center in Boulder, massage therapy isn't offered as part of the center's treatment program. It is, however, something the center suggests to certain patients.

"Overcoming an eating disorder is a process of connecting with [one's] body and accepting the body," Sperry says. "Some women can have so much shame and negative thoughts about their body that touch can be an extremely important thing. Generally the idea behind massage is kindness to the body, nurturing and attending to the body's needs. That fits nicely with what we're trying to do with our treatment."

Menzel says that she offers her bulimic clients an environment where the focus is off their weight and on the more functional aspects of the body.

"When I'm working on a client, the last thing I'm thinking about is their weight," she says. "I'm thinking anatomically-not about how they look but more about the structure of the body."

The very act of simply scheduling an appointment to get a massage is a good sign, according to Menzel.

"People who show up for a massage are ready for a change in their emotional well-being," she says.

Energy healing

Energy healing is a broad term for any type of healing that restores and balances the flow of energy in the body, like Reiki or acupuncture. According to advocates of energy work, the human body is made up of a complex system of invisible energy pathways, in addition to physical and biochemical systems. The energy itself is what's referred to in English as the "universal life force energy." The Chinese call it qi or chi; the Japanese refer to it as ki; in India, it is prana.

Isabelle Tierney, a Boulder-based tri-lingual psychotherapist and certified play therapist with a degree in energy healing from the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, says energy healing can be used as a means to uncover the cause of an eating disorder.

"In energy healing, either through me or through the patient, a memory will pop up that will allow us to more fully understand the root of the eating disorder," she says. "Putting my hands on someone may awaken certain thoughts or beliefs that lead us to that place. And it never is something that overwhelms the person. It always is at a level that the person is ready for. So it is much more fluid than talk therapy-which I also practice and is also very helpful. But this is a way to express something that isn't verbal."

The technique Tierney uses is an "enlightening system of healing that combines hands-on healing techniques with spiritual and psychological processes touching every aspect of [a person's] life."

Like massage therapy, the physical aspect of energy healing is an added benefit for those suffering from eating disorders.

"With energy healing you're sitting with someone in their full presence and giving them your full attention," Tierney says. "The end result is the person being completely grounded, completely relaxed. That's helpful, because people with eating disorders live in a world of stress, anxiety, shame and negative behavior. That's the opposite of being relaxed."

As someone who struggled with an eating disorder for several years, Tierney has firsthand experience with the subject.

"With eating disorders, there's a complete split from the mind and body," she says. "Energy healing is a way to bring yourself back into the body. Once you're back in your body, connected with it, it's harder to act out this stuff-the binging, the purging, all of it-on the body."


As part of its intensive outpatient program, La Luna Center incorporates yoga and meditation techniques into its group sessions. The goal behind this isn't necessarily the physical benefits that yoga can offer, but rather the mental process that patients experience during the workouts.

"We offer yoga as a way for patients to connect with the body," Sperry says. "The yoga isn't intensive work-it's relaxing postures and some flexibility work. What I think is most important in the yoga workouts is what's going through the patient's mind-whether they're having negative body judgments about themselves or comparing themselves to others or whether they're able to get into that calm, meditative state. We see it as a therapeutic tool. Afterward, we can discuss what everyone was feeling during the workout-it's a way of figuring out what the root problem is, where a person might fall off track. "

Of course, there are physical benefits, as well. A regular yoga workout can help rebuild the strength, energy and bone density that is often damaged and sometimes lost as a result of anorexia.

In the end, the goal is to reconnect eating disorder victims with the part of themselves that has come to seem like an enemy-their physical body-and enable them to break the cycle of self-abuse so they can begin to heal.

Walking a thin line - Some say skinny is no longer in fashion

By Aimee Heckel, Daily Camera
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Brittni Pickering doesn't want to do the number game, because that's what almost put a kink in her modeling career. Because it's the darkest side of the job.

But by the numbers, Pickering can be reduced to: 22 years old, 5 feet, 2 inches tall, 120 pounds and a size 3.

On the street, she's healthy and petite. Even a little skinny. On the runway and in front of the camera, she's too big.

At least that's what several modeling agencies said when they turned her down last year.

Pickering, who lives in Denver but has done several modeling jobs in Boulder, says she is an average-sized girl — and a model without disordered eating. She works with Premier Image agency in Denver.

Because of her experiences, Pickering now aims to be a role model for beautiful, healthy-bodied women. But it's hard, she said, with the tabloids boasting photos of uber-skinny celebrities, such as Nicole Richie. Other actresses, such as Lindsay Lohan, have come under scrutiny in tabloids and even the mainstream press for losing too much weight.

Brazilian fashion model Ana Carolina Reston recently died from complications related to anorexia. At 5-foot-8, she weighed 88 pounds — considered normal for a 12-year-old girl no more than 5 feet tall.

In August, Luisel Ramos of Uruguay died of a heart attack, prompting Madrid to ban extremely underweight models from its fashion week.

Some say the media's eye on extreme thinness is a step in a healthier direction. Sara Milmoe, an eating-disorders psychotherapist at the Boulder Community Hospital, said she's glad to see the awareness.

"Society as a whole is becoming more conscious," she said. "More people are going to treatment and being vocal about their addictions."

This is especially relevant in a community like Boulder, one of the skinniest cities in the nation, Milmoe said. Some people forget that even athletes can harm their bodies by having too little fat. People can be naturally rail-thin, but that is the exception, experts say. And they want health-obsessed Boulderites to know you can be too thin and not look like a waif.

And amid the hype, Milmoe said not to forget the obesity crisis. More Americans are considered obese than anorexic, statistics show.

"Too much of anything is still bad, whether it's abstaining from eating or eating too much," Milmoe said.

How thin is too thin?

There's a fine line between being fit and being fixated on fitness, according to Dorie McCubbrey, an eating-disorder therapist in Superior.

One of her athletic clients had to stop running after unhealthy eating habits left her shin bone permanently damaged. Too much exercise with too few nutrients can lead to hair loss, heart arrhythmia, infertility, osteoporosis and stress fractures.

"People tend to think 'I'm not anorexic unless I'm bone thin.' That's a major misconception," McCubbrey said. "Others justify their thinness by saying, 'It's because I'm an athlete.' But being too thin can also compromise athletic performance."

Especially in a community like Boulder, she said, often people mistake the beginning stages of anorexia as "healthy eating" and don't realize the severity.

And even while the media mock the skinny Hollywood bodies, they're still getting attention — making the look more of a spectacle, McCubbrey said. This can make it more appealing.

In its second year, Boulder's La Luna Center for eating disorders has already needed to expand.

Malia Sperry PsyD., the clinical director, said she wants to attribute the growing demand to more people seeking treatment, not more disorders.

"It would be nice is we could move in a direction of celebrating diversity in shapes and sizes... . Having a broader definition of beauty so we can all find what's good for us and feel good there," Sperry said. "Perhaps the push-back in modeling is a step in that direction. I'd like to see it that way."

Eating disorder center opens in Boulder

By Lisa Marshall, Daily Camera Staff Writer
February 28, 2005

Boulder area women struggling with eating disorders now have a new place to turn, thanks to the opening of the county's first center for the treatment of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and compulsive exercise.

"It seemed like there was really a need," said Malia Sperry, director of the new La Luna Center, 2501 Walnut St. in Boulder. "Boulder is a very health-conscious and fitness-conscious place, which is wonderful, but it can also be taken to an extreme. We see a lot of people restricting their eating, or compulsively exercising."

Sperry, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, founded the center in November after an internship at CU's Wardenburg Health Center opened her eyes to the prevalence of eating disorders in the area and what appeared to be a lack of services. While one-on-one counseling is helpful for some people, she said, others also need more intense therapy. Yet many are intimidated by, or cannot afford, a lengthy stay at an in-patient facility.

La Luna Center offers an intermediate option: a six-month intensive outpatient program in which participants initially meet three times a week for three hours, tapering down over time to one session per week. During one session, the group participates in "experiential therapies" such as role playing. Another focuses on life skills. The third is a free-form discussion. The participants also see a nutritionist and therapist regularly.

The total cost is about $13,000, which is covered, at least in part, by most insurance companies.

Sperry said she believes that in the current health care environment, in which many insurance companies are reluctant to cover costly medical bills, such intensive outpatient programs, which tend to be less costly than inpatient programs, are likely to become more common. And it may attract people who are turned off by the idea of having to leave their everyday lives behind to get help.

"Having someone go for two weeks to a facility where they are living there, and then putting them back into their day-to-day lives can be very disruptive. I'm concerned about people deciding not to get treatment because it is too inconvenient," Sperry said.

In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. A recent survey by the American College Health Association found that 2.2 percent of CU students endorsed having anorexia and 2.8 percent endorsed having bulimia. Nationally, between 0.5 and 1 percent of college women suffer from anorexia and between 2 and 3 percent have bulimia.


For more information on La Luna Center programs, call (720) 470-0010 or log on to

Alisa Shanks, eating disorders clinician at Wardenburg Health Center, said some people are not medically stable enough to remain in their own environment while receiving treatment, but for those who are, a program like La Luna Center is much needed.

"You don't have to stop your whole life to be in treatment," Shanks said.

One La Luna Center patient said that's exactly why she enrolled in the program.

She started struggling with eating disorders her junior year in high school, and by freshman year in college had dropped 50 pounds. Once at CU, her relationship with food worsened.

"I had no idea what college was going to be like. I couldn't deal with my emotions, so I ate," she said.

Over the past 18 months, she has fluctuated between anorexia, compulsive overeating and bulimia so severe she began vomiting blood and suffered debilitating cramps because of nutritional depletion. She tried group counseling and one-on-one therapy. But only since she enrolled in La Luna Center one month ago has she seen real progress.

"I am the best I've been in 31/2 years. I'm feeling. I'm laughing. I'm getting closer to people again. I'm a 20-year-old college girl again and that feels good."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Lisa Marshall at (303) 473-1357 or


Site Map