Fairhaven business takes new approach to treating eating disorders

One spring day Deena Rathkamp approached Sarah Voth at Western Washington University’s Student Health Center, where Rathkamp worked as a counselor and Voth as a dietician. They both worked with students suffering from eating disorders.

“Hey Sarah, I’ve been thinking…” Rathkamp said.

Voth finished her sentence: “About opening a practice together?”

They moved quickly and on July 1 opened Flourish Food and Body, their practice where Rathkamp, a clinical psychologist, and Voth, a certified eating disorder dietitian, work together.

They knew Bellingham needed more eating disorder treatment from their work at Western, Voth said.

Western’s student health center has a short-term model for treating eating disorders, Rathkamp said. They tried to start treatment with patients and then refer them off-campus for long-term help. But there weren’t many off-campus providers to refer patients to and therapists who specialized in eating disorders rarely had openings, Rathkamp said.

“Deena and I were both feeling sort of inundated with people who were seeking help for eating disorders on campus,” Voth said.

The same day Rathkamp pitched the idea to Voth, they found office space for rent in the second floor of Fairhaven’s new South Bay Suites building, across the street from the Fairhaven Village Inn. That space, at 1140 10th St., is now their businesses’ home.

Together, they treat both the physical and emotional aspects of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and compulsive overeating disorders. They both see their own clients independently, but they strive to work together to treat their patients with eating disorders.

“I find when Sarah and I are working together as part of this team, people get better faster,” Rathkamp said.

Voth helps people listen to their bodies and what their hunger tells them about eating, she said, and Rathkamp works with patients on the emotional triggers that led to developing an eating disorder in the first place.

Starting a business required learning new skills, which Voth and Rathkamp have learned on the fly, they said. Getting credentials for insurance companies was one of the biggest challenges, and they’re still waiting for final approval from some. But Rathkamp said the business, as well as her private practice, is on its way toward being profitable as they build their caseloads.

“It’s gone amazingly well so far. I was so anxious to leave all the benefits and the job security,” Rathkamp said. “It was a huge leap of faith and it is going to be fine.”

Voth still works on campus four days a week but Rathkamp left her job at Western altogether. Her whole income depends on the business, and she’s the main earner in her family, she said.

Their quick success is bittersweet. Thirty million people in the U.S.—nearly 10 percent of the population—will suffer from an eating disorders in their life, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. And the problem is worse on college campuses, according to the association.

Judging by what Voth and Rathkamp have seen so far, Bellingham is not an exception to the statistics.

“I think we continue to see this rise in food and body dissatisfaction,” Voth said. “It’s amazing how much access to information we have. With that, I feel like we’re more confused than ever about how to eat and how to nourish our bodies.”

Oliver Lazenby, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or olazenby@bbjtoday.com


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