Intelligent…determined…focused. These are the character traits
that helped make Brittany Burgunder a successful straight A student and
These are also the same characteristics that helped fuel the severe eating
disorder that almost killed her, causing her to drop below 60 lbs. at
the most dangerous point during her illness. It was at this time that
she was admitted to Torrance Memorial’s Medical Stabilization Program
and placed under the expert care of Dr. Linda Schack, one of the country’s
foremost experts in adolescent and adult eating disorders.
Brittany had struggled with anorexia for years, from the age of 13 through
high school and into college. Now fully recovered and a published author,
Brittany can look back at her journey through her illness and recovery,
including numerous hospitalizations and relapses, and recognize that her
stay at Torrance Memorial was in fact the turning point, allowing her
to begin taking those first steps toward overcoming her eating disorder.
Brittany credits Dr. Schack and her exceptional team of nurses, nutritionists
and therapists —all with years of experience treating the most complex
eating disorder patients —with saving her life.
A Vicious Cycle — Illness, Treatment and Relapse
A competitive and successful student and athlete, by all appearances Brittany
seemed like a healthy teenager — in control and on top of her game.
But Brittany was also a type A perfectionist, and that trait, coupled
with some social difficulties, caused her to develop an eating disorder
as a young teenager.
As she describes that first bout with anorexia, “It was like a switch
went off in my brain, an electrical explosion, and I began obsessively
counting calories.” Brittany’s parents noticed something was
wrong but Brittany was skilled at hiding her disorder and she continued
to excel at school and sports. It wasn’t until she fell below 100
lbs. that she entered her first residential program.
After her residential treatment Brittany’s health stabilized for
a couple of years, but when she was a senior in high school her anorexia
returned with a vengeance, manifesting itself as a severe exercise addiction.
She belonged to three gyms, rotating her sessions so her frequent attendance
wouldn’t be noticed. She also developed food and exercise rituals
that she followed obsessively. During that time Brittany was admitted
to Stanford University’s Medical Stabilization Unit three times,
and each time she relapsed. As Brittany herself describes it, that year
was “total chaos.”
Brittany entered UC Davis as a freshman in the hopes that she would be
able to start over and regain a normal life, but her disease proved too
overwhelming. She developed obsessive routines to accommodate her exercise
addiction and hid her weight loss with layers of clothes. Brittany still
managed to get good grades, and even participated in sports, but her life
and her health were unraveling and her weight plummeted to 85 lbs.
UC Davis finally asked Brittany to withdraw from school—her health
was too precarious. It was at that time that she was admitted to Torrance
Memorial’s Medical Stabilization Program, where she spent the next
two months under the care of Dr. Schack and her team.
A Last Chance
It was during this stay that Brittany was finally able to begin breaking
free of her eating disorder and start the process of healing. But it wasn’t
easy, and Brittany’s biggest obstacle to getting better was herself.
In fact, Brittany herself readily admits that she was an impossible patient.
She was in denial about her illness, angry with the doctors and nurses
who were trying to help her, and very clever about finding ways around
the system to avoid consuming calories. She was physically very sick —
she couldn’t stand or walk and had severe complications including
arrhythmia, hepatitis and refeeding syndrome—but she didn’t
believe she was ill. Brittany was, to say the least, challenging. She
was also dying, and this was in effect her last chance at recovery.
The Torrance Memorial Difference
So why was the team at Torrance Memorial able to succeed with Brittany
where other programs had failed? Above and beyond their expertise in treating
her medical complications, Brittany believes it was perseverance and compassion
that made the difference; Dr. Schack and her team simply never gave up.
“They kept on trying for me, every possible option, even when I couldn’t
and wouldn’t try on my own. No other program could have done what
they did. Everyone else would have called my case hopeless, but they never
did. They just kept believing and fighting until I decided to fight for
It took about a month and a half of gradual change for Brittany to start
opening up and drop her defenses. It was at that point that she realized
“I needed to fight for my life and channel my feistiness toward
Brittany ‘s recovery took a long time, and she continued to struggle
to overcome her disorder after leaving the Medical Stabilization Program.
But without the care she received there in those crucial first eight weeks
she would never have had that opportunity. “I look back on that
time with tremendous gratitude and love.”
Learning from Brittany’s Experience
By the time Brittany was admitted to Torrance Memorial she was virtually
out of time. She had ignored the red flags that should have told her she
needed expert help right away, but she hopes that others will learn from
The most important warning sign was that her eating disorder was controlling
her daily life and schedule. “You should be alarmed if exercise
and food rules and rituals consume your life and interfere with your ability
to socialize or work. Then you need expert help.“
She also warns that if you have an eating disorder “you need to realize
that it is a mental disease that affects your ability to see yourself
as ill. As long as you have an eating disorder you will never see yourself
as sick enough to need help. That is why you need to trust the people
you love to help you get the care you need. “
And Brittany’s most important piece of advice: “Without the
right help you can die or have permanent physical damage. But with the
right team you can turn your life around. You can’t do it alone.
You need to trust and surrender so you can get the life changing help
that you need.“
More About Brittany
Brittany Burgunder is a certified professional coach (C.P.C.) specializing
in eating disorders. She is a former nationally ranked tennis player and
equestrian who battled with an eating disorder for over a decade. After
overcoming her own personal struggles, Brittany became passionate about
helping others find their paths toward recovery. She now publicly raises
awareness and advocates for those who are navigating the challenges of
eating disorders and mental health.
Brittany – a relative of the Pulitzer Prize winning author, William
Styron – is a prodigious author. Brittany’s gripping book,
Safety in Numbers: From 56 to 221 Pounds, My Battle with Eating Disorders
–A memoir, was published in 2016. Her story, which is written directly from personal
and uncensored journal entries, chronicles her struggles and ultimate
triumph. Brittany has now begun writing the manuscript for the sequel to
Safety in Numbers, which brings closure to the recovery process using the same intimate
style. Brittany regularly publishes articles and blogs and engages with
the public in a variety of ways. She strives to be a role model and bring
inspiration to those who have lost hope.
To learn more about Brittany's story, visit her website at http://brittanyburgunder.com/