Milledgeville teen shares her struggle with an eating disorder to raise awareness
MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- Eating disorders kill more people between the ages of 16 and 24 than any other disorder, and many of those deaths occur in Middle Georgia.
Although an estimated 25 million people suffer from these disorders in the U.S. alone, there are no local in-patient or outpatient intensive treatment centers in the Middle Georgia area.
Those with the illness often have no choice but to travel long distances for treatment, and without treatment they can die. This became all too real for one Middle Georgia family.
"It hurt her body to lay in the bed. The bones were sticking out everywhere....it was horrendous... it looked like someone from the Holocaust," Said Beth Prestridge of Milledgeville, who nearly lost her daughter Taylor to a disease seldom spoken of.
"It's one of the most horrific disorders, diseases that you can possibly go through," Beth said. "You feel so helpless. Any normal parenting skills that you would do in order to get your child to do what you'd expect them to didn't work."
Just one year ago, 13-year-old Logan Taylor Prestridge nearly lost her life to an illness unfamiliar to her and her family.
"It's so horrible just to watch your child just disintegrate," Beth said.
The disease is called Anorexia Nervosa. It may not be as easily identifiable as cancer, diabetes or HIV, but it is just as deadly. It’s a disease that starts in the mind.
"They're like, 'It's so easy, just put the food in your mouth and swallow it and chew it up,’" Taylor said of the struggle. “Well, it's not that easy when you have a disease in your head telling you all this stuff."
Today, Taylor is an athlete, a friend, a caring sister, a daughter and a lover of life. She is anything but an eating disorder victim.
"I love to ride four-wheelers and hunt, because my dad is a big hunter,” she said. “And I play basketball, soccer, softball, track, and I love all of them. My favorite is basketball. I love basketball."
But images show that the healthy, energetic teen that’s here today nearly didn’t make it through the past year. For Taylor, the eating disorder began when she tore her labrum in her shoulder in the summer of 2015 and couldn't play sports. She said as a long-time athlete, it was a loss in identity and a loss of control.
"That caused me to be like, 'Oh well, since I'm not doing anything, I'm going to gain weight,'" she said. “So I started watching what I was going to eat and it turned into an over-amount."
Things escalated. Taylor dropped 30 pounds in three weeks. At 5 foot 2, she weighed 70 pounds
"My eyes would be black when I normally have hazel eyes and I just had bags under my eyes,” Taylor said.
In the Fall of 2015, her family realized they couldn't save her on their own. Taylor needed professional help. After researching, they found Mary-Catherine Riner, a local licensed psychologist specializing in eating disorders. She helped turn things around.
"It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders," Taylor said.
Riner helped Taylor to separate what she called ‘ED,’ or her eating disorder ‘voice,’ from her own thoughts.
"It's not about food. People think that it's about food, but it's really not," Riner said of the disease. “The tricky part is that when people are underfed, they don't have the cognitive capacity to think rationally or clearly. So in order to get that, people have to eat to get back to their baseline, and until that baseline is established those thoughts are distorted, very irrational."
Luckily for Taylor, sessions with Riner along with medications from a local psychiatrist were enough to begin nursing her back to health. But for others, it’s not enough. Riner says options are slim to none in Middle Georgia for those who require in-patient programs and intensive out-patient programs.
"When there's not options, it makes it more difficult for people to have access to it," she said.
The possibility of an in-patient center became real for Taylor during the holidays in 2015. She had relapsed.
"I'm like, 'I give up,'” Beth said. “'We're going to have to put her somewhere. I mean, she's going to die.'"
But Taylor decided to get well at all costs.
"I snapped out of my eating disorder because I said, 'God has such a better plan for me, and I'm too young to die,'" she said.
Throughout the illness, Taylor’s family says their eyes were opened to the reality of the disease and the need for more resources in Middle Georgia.
“It’s so misunderstood," Beth said. "Nobody knows enough about it."
Taylor says she owes her recovery to the guidance of health professionals, the loving support of her family, her faith in God and sheer determination. She says overcoming the disease is something she could have never done alone.