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Eating disorder support group sprouts in Mitchell

With few therapists available and no support groups in the state, a Mitchell woman overcoming anorexia took the advice of her California recovery therapist.

Tiffany Fraser, 33, will begin leading an eating disorder support group in June, the first of its kind in South Dakota.

She has organized Courage to Confront, which covers all eating disorders for people who have been diagnosed or who think they may have an eating disorder.

Fraser returned in February from an eight-month treatment program for anorexia and alcoholism in California.

"One of my biggest concerns was there are no support meetings here," she said recently. "When I came home, I saw an eating disorder therapist in Sioux Falls and I started to struggle a little."

The L.B. Williams fourth-grade teacher also video-chats with a therapist in California she worked with during her treatment -- it was her therapist's suggestion to start the support group.

After posting the idea on Facebook, Fraser said the response was overwhelming.

"It just flew. There was way more interest than I thought there would be," she said.

She is working on starting a foundation for the group, also called Courage to Confront. Her accountant is currently applying for a nonprofit status.

"I'm hoping it will be big enough to provide scholarships to people who need treatment but can't afford it," Fraser said.

Right now, Fraser said it's disparaging that South Dakota doesn't have support groups for those suffering with eating disorders, which can range from anorexia to bulimia to overeating to over exercising. Aside from that, Fraser has to drive 70 miles twice a week for therapy sessions and the closest treatment center is in Minneapolis. She said that's frustrating because eating disorders are so dangerous.

She was on a direct path to her own death before and while attending treatment -- she weighed 90 pounds, was losing her hair and survived on 250 calories a day.

"Eating disorders, especially anorexia, are the No. 1 mental illness death. Eating disorders are a mental illness," she said. "The heart shuts down as your body goes into starvation mode. All your organs stop working."

Fraser's goal in bringing an eating disorder support group to Mitchell is to help others like her -- offer help to those who have issues, who are struggling or who think they may have an eating disorder. And to help those who have loved ones who may be struggling with an eating disorder.

The first meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 6 at the Family Visitation Center at 1809 N. Wisconsin St. Those who attend will get to know each other. Each meeting will last about an hour, Fraser said, and anyone interested can just stop by.

Meetings will be held each Friday. The first three Fridays will be closed meetings, Fraser said, which means only those who suffer from an eating disorder can attend. During those meetings, participants will talk about their issues, read from a book called "Life without ED," work through an Eating Disorders Anonymous workbook and listen to professional speakers and eating disorder survivors.

The fourth Friday of every month will be open to anyone interested in the group -- particularly for family and friends worried about loved ones who suffer or may suffer from an eating disorder.

"They can get help and support here," Fraser said.

The foundation has already raised about $1,500 in donations and support from the business community. That money has paid for meeting materials, pamphlets for the program and speakers to attend the meetings.

Some of the money has been set aside for a 5K walk/run scheduled for Sept. 13, which will be a fundraiser for the foundation. Much of the business support will go toward putting logos on fliers and T-shirts, she said.

The foundation has also scheduled a women's night out Feb. 27 at the Highland Conference Center. The fundraiser will feature an eating disorder survivor who will speak and there will be vendors and prizes.

Anyone who wants to donate to Courage to Confront can do so by giving to the foundation's account at either First Dakota National Bank location in Mitchell either in person or by mail. To donate online, you can visit http://www.gofundme.com/9e7er0.

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