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Eating disorder treatment platform helps families get help virtually

Equip connects patients as young as age 6 with professionals who can help, regardless of location.
/ Source: TODAY

Kristina Saffran was only 10-years-old when she was diagnosed with anorexia.

Saffran said she was fortunate to find four different professionals in her New York community to work with her over the course of that year, but treatment took a toll.

"It was such a struggle on my family," Saffran told TODAY's Sheinelle Jones. "And then unfortunately, when I began to enter puberty, around 13, I relapsed and I spent, essentially my entire freshman year in and out of hospitals, not in high school."

In recovery at age 15, Saffran started a non-profit called "Project Heal" to raise money for those who couldn't afford treatment for eating disorders.

Across the country, clinical psychologist and researcher Dr. Erin Parks noticed additional barriers to patients seeking help, such as month's long waiting lists to see a doctor and cash-only payments.

"Oftentimes a mom and a child would come for treatment, and they leave their other siblings and other parents at home. And it was hard on the entire family," Parks said. "So it made me think, why do people have to travel in order to get treatment?"

Saffran and Parks found each other and joined forces with one mission in mind. In 2019, they launched Equip.

"Equip is a fully virtual treatment program that gives families a five person treatment team, a psychiatrist, a therapist, a dietitian, mentorship and a physician to help them fully recover from an eating disorder," Parks explained.

The program is virtual, allowing access regardless of location, and is considered "in network" with major health insurance plans like Aetna, Cigna, and United Healthcare, as well as Medicaid.

"When your child is struggling with an eating disorder, you need to bring your whole village," Parks told TODAY.

Equip is working with nearly one thousand families, and children as young as 6.

Parks said parents can monitor if their kids' eating habits are changing, if they are secretly exercising in their room, or if they are vomiting.

"There (are) lots of different eating disorder behaviors," Parks said.

Behaviors include: Vomiting after meals, secretly exercising in the shower, and their bedroom in the middle of the night, excessively drinking water, and then skipping meals, skipping snacks and narrowing the range of foods that they eat.

Parks also added that it's important to diversify social media feeds, too.

"It’s just an algorithm," she said. "And so what you put in is what comes out. And there are influencers in a variety of different body shapes and sizes, who are in a strong active recovery and can be really healthy role models."

71% of Equip patients report a reduction in eating disorder symptoms and two-thirds feel improvements in the their mood, according to Saffran.

"While we believe that full recovery is absolutely possible, it is a long journey," Saffran said.

Added Parks, "It has been really the privilege of our lifetimes to start Equip and watch people get better. The lights are coming back on. Kids are remembering who they are outside their eating disorder. They’re rejoining their siblings and their friends and their activities. And as a parent, it’s been wonderful watching the parents exhale, and get to worry a little less about their children."