NORFOLK, Va. - After months of work, Kendra Wilson is just two weeks away from opening Hampton Roads' newest treatment option for people battling eating disorders.
But for Wilson, the roots of this effort go back much further.
"I actually had a roommate in college who passed away from her eating disorder years after we had met," the social worker and certified eating disorder specialist told News 3.
Next, Wilson will add Program Director to her resume at Prosperity Eating Disorders and Wellness Center, set to start taking clients on March 7. The facility's location on Center Drive in Norfolk will be its third in Virginia, but the first of its kind in this region.
"There is nothing like this, and, apparently, there never has been, any eating disorder treatment centers in the Hampton Roads area," Wilson said.
Here, people struggling with any form of disordered eating — anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating or something else — will be able to find help in three different levels of care: partial hospital, intensive outpatient and outpatient services.
A team of therapists and dietitians will manage different aspects of care.
Mary Dye, a certified dietitian for those battling eating disorders, will be the center's Director of Nutrition and showed News 3 around the facility's kitchen.
"This the area where we will do so much great work helping our clients navigate their relationships with food, helping them get renourished," said Dye, who's spoken with News 3 multiple times about the topic of eating disorders. "I've been back in Hampton Roads for...it's almost five years now and the need for eating disorder services has really been overwhelming."
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, which has titled this week "National Eating Disorders Awareness Week," calls to its helpline have risen 107 percent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dye says those who struggle with eating don't always match the picture we see in the media.
"A very thin, white woman or teen. And what we know of eating disorders is it affects everyone across the gender spectrum, all races, all ages, all socio-economic statuses," she said. "It does not discriminate and we really, really need everyone to hear that message because so often someone is struggling, but because they don't fit the stereotype, they don't get identified."
To help, Dye says family and friends can reach out to someone they believe might be struggling with an eating disorder.
Changes in eating habits like refusing to join for a meal or bringing their own food to a meal are red flags, she says, as are changes in mood. To start the conversation, Dye suggests not bringing up a person's body shape or weight and instead focus on concern for their well-being.