06/27/2012 06:03 pm ET Updated Jun 27, 2012

'A Place Of Our Own,' Eating Disorder Support Center Opens In Denver As The First Of Its Kind (PHOTOS)

"I lost 65 pounds one month," Diana Milne, 57, said.

The same statement might be said for so-called "miracle diets" with men and women standing proudly in baggy pants that now look like burlap sacks, where losing weight becomes the equivalent to leading a healthy lifestyle. But in an eating disorder facility patients have to turn that notion on its head.

"A Place of Our Own" is a non-clinical, drop-in, eating disorder support center that's the first of its kind in the United States. Located in a modest, cozy-looking house, "A Place of Our Own" celebrated its grand opening Thursday, June 21 as a non-profit, low-cost support center, though it's been up and running since September.

The center harnesses self-awareness classes like, Nia (a sensory-based movement technique that combines dance, yoga, and martial arts), interaction with horses, meditation and nutrition classes, all offered in an at-your-convenience, low-cost format.

Milne has suffered with anorexia nervosa for over 40 years, though she thinks some form of it was around when she was as young as 4. She's spent 7 years in a "psych hospital," has white scar lines etched into her wrists like tree-rings from years of self-mutilation, she has kidney disease, kidney cancer, osteoporosis, and is now in assisted living.

She also hand-stitched an exact replica of "A Place of Own" on a 3x4-foot quilt that will be hung in the center's living room.

'A Place Of Our Own' Grand Opening

Eating disorders now affect over 11 million in the United States alone with residential and intensive outpatient treatments costing between $850-$2,500 a day.

Classes at "A Place of Our Own," modeled after a non-clinical, non-profit support center like Hopewell in Canada, average $10 a class or for a week of classes. Rather than be a substitute for clinical treatment, "A Place of Our Own" is meant to fill the void between treatment and recovery, a role that may prove to be especially crucial since the fight to have insurance coverage for high level eating disorder treatments is still waging.

Four board officers of the Eating Disorder Foundation have been treated for their own eating disorder, while others have friends or family members who've undergone treatment.

"I had a daughter who had an eating disorder who passed away five years ago. She was 18," said Sue Feld, a board member of the Eating Disorder Foundation.

"After my daughter passed away it was apparent my goal was to educate other people. I just think as a parent, that parents need to be educated just like they are with drug abuse and alcohol abuse, I mean eating disorders are running rampant in schools and colleges and parents really aren't educated -- and for me personally, that's why I'm here. So we opened the support center for a place for people to come to either if they're struggling or have a family member to have support and also for people who have been in treatment. You know sometimes it's very hard after you've been in treatment to acclimate back into the real world."

The building's donors, Greg and Patti Hueni, have a daughter who had an eating disorder and agree that before "A Place of Our Own" came to fruition, there weren't a lot of places for people suffering with eating disorders to get support after leaving treatment.

"Most people that have eating disorders when they leave treatment, they need support. They can't just go back into life and say, 'Okay everything's hunky-dory now, I'm going to get on with life,' they usually regress," Patti Hueni said.

Joanne Posner-Mayer, the founder of Swiss Ball groups like Fitball and Ball Dynamics International, LLC also helps coordinate nutrition and fitness groups at "A Place of Our Own."

"You'll see that unlike an alcoholic that can stop drinking, you can't stop eating. And there is a genetic component to an eating disorder. Just like there is to alcoholism, " Posner-Mayer said.
"If you ask high school kids, everybody knows somebody with an eating disorder. I mean this is getting younger and younger and younger, and the parents don't know at first."

Studies are showing that about 50 percent of the risk of developing an eating disorder is based on genetic factors.

Dr. Kenneth Weiner, who has been active in the treatment of eating disorders in Denver for over 25 years, says that while genetic predisposition plays a role, it is not the only factor.

I like to tell patients and families that 'genes load the gun, and life pulls the trigger,' meaning that a perfect storm of biological, psychological and sociological factors must align to cause an eating disorder.

Toni Saiber, chair of the foundation, developed her eating disorder in her 30s while she was going through a divorce. While suffering anorexia nervosa, Saiber had a miscarriage nine weeks into pregnancy, her weight dropped so low she went into a coma, she lost her fertility, her upper teeth and a lot of her hair. Her husband served as the architect of "A Place of Our Own."

Board member Ellen Hart, a two-time winner of the Bolder Boulder, the 2010 winner of the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii and former wife to Mayor and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Federico Peña is also well-known for a 1996 made-for-TV movie, "Dying to be Perfect: The Ellen Hart Peña Story," based on her struggle with her eating disorder.

"This is a celebration that has been a long time coming," Saiber said.