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National Speaker Kitty Westin to Present at the Annual UMD Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week


Kitty Westin
Kitty Westin

Anorexia Nervosa. Bulimia. Binge Eating. Although many people have heard these words, many do not realize how these illnesses affect people, and how many people, including pre-teens, deal with them on a regular basis.

During the week of February 27, UMD will be holding the annual Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness week with “Family and Friends” as the theme. Kicking off the week on Monday, February 27 at 7 pm in Bohannon 90, Kitty Westin, an advocate for people with eating disorders and a UMD alumni, will be speaking on "Understanding Eating Disorders and How to Support Someone Who Is Suffering." 

The presentation is free and open to all. It will focus on how the family can help with other family members who have eating disorders, including recognizing the signs and encouraging the person to reach out for help. “Family and friends are a huge part of the team because of the love and the support they can give to the person,” she said. The event is sponsored by the UMD Commission on Women; the UMD Department of Psychology; the UMD Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation; the UMD Women’s Resource and Action Center; the Emily Program; the Junior League of Duluth; and UMD Health Services.

As a world advocate for people with eating disorders, Westin is speaking for the first time in Duluth where she was not only raised, but where she also graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a minor in sociology. “At the time, UMD was a relatively small liberal arts university,” Westin said.  “I loved being in small classes with very skilled professors who loved their work. My years at UMD were some of the best years of my life.”

After graduating from UMD, Westin taught Special Education for several years, having taken education courses during her college career.  She went on to pursue her masters in counseling psychology from St. Mary’s in the Twin Cities where she graduated in 1991.

Westin believes in educating people about eating disorders.  She believes that there are many misconceptions about the people and the disorders. “ I want to educate people about how it’s not just a phase or a character flaw, but a real illness.” As part of her journey in eduating the public, she is also in the process of creating a new policy for people with eating disorders where everyone receives treatment with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, “ObamaCare.”

“Eating disorders are treatable and people can recover,” Westin said.  “We have found out many things over the years about them. No one should die from an eating disorder in this day and age.” These words are clearly from her heart and from her own experience when her daughter, Anna Westin, died in February of 2000 after a long struggle with Anorexia Nervosa. Once they reached a settlement with the insurance company for not covering the care that their daughter needed, the family started the Anna Westin Foundation and the Anna Westin House. The original house started in 2002 with eight beds. The new house has 16 beds to help people with eating disorders.

The uniqueness of the program is the long-term care that has a six-month treatment program. Long-term care treatment is unusual for centers for people with eating disorders. “The house and the open, honest, passionate speaking about eating disorders really helped with the healing process after Anna’s death,” Westin explained. The foundation and the house merged with the Emily Program Foundation four years after it started.  This allowed for Westin to continue her passion of speaking to the public about eating disorders. The Anna Westin House is still in use today, there is also an additional house called the Anna Westin House-Adolescent. These houses are the two residential areas for the Emily Program and are located in the St. Anthony neighborhood of St. Paul. 

The Emily Program has locations in Duluth, Stillwater, Burnsville, St. Paul and St. Louis Park. The program has nine total locations including one in Seattle Washington. Between all these locations there are at least 3,500 clients. The Duluth office is one of their smaller offices and is the only eating disorder program located in the northern region of the state. The facility sees about 200 clients per year and has eight clinical staff and an administrative person.        


Written by Katarina Menze, February 2012.

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