When Wendy Oliver Pyatt was in college she practiced rigid dieting, which at the time she believed to be part of a “healthy”’ lifestyle. It wasn’t until she was introduced to works by Geneen Roth, the best-selling author of “Food Is Love” and other books on issues with food, that Pyatt realized her attempt to attain a certain body size was, in fact, a form of disordered eating. Fast forward 10 years and Pyatt, a board-certified psychiatrist, was opening her first treatment center for disordered eating, centered around principles of mindful eating and a belief that health is not determined by the size of your clothes. Today the Miami, Florida-based entrepreneur runs Within Health, a virtual platform matching patients with clinical experts and supporting them with individual and group therapy sessions.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
Tell us more about your journey.
My top challenge initially was working through my own eating disorder. I didn’t even know that what I was doing was unhealthy. I thought I was trying to be the best version of myself. The intrusive thoughts, the anxiety, and how an eating disorder hijacks your mind so that you exist without living is pure misery. Eating disorders keep your mind caught up in what you are eating next, what you just ate, and how you will get through the day managing your natural impulses, desire, and actual need to eat. As a result, you are never fully present in the moment to experience authentic connection, pure joy and laughter, and complete attention to whatever you do.
How did you address this challenge?
By God’s grace, I stumbled into the principle of mindful eating when I could have easily gotten pulled into other approaches to dealing with food, which I think would have been disastrous. Mindful and intuitive eating is pivotal because it reinforces your competence around yourself but, more importantly, that your needs are valid. Mindful eating teaches us through our relationship with food that if we pay attention to what is called from “within,” we will be guided in our interactions with food. But it is bigger than that because that same principle applies to our entire journey in life. That is what is amazing about the treatment of eating disorders. How we heal with food is akin to how we want to apply mindfulness to our entire life.
What has your business process been like?
When I started my first treatment center, Center for Hope of the Sierras, I had conviction about the right way to go about doing it, which later became known as Health At Every Size. From there, my journey to starting several eating disorder treatment programs, including Within Health, has been a very organic process. It’s just like learning to be a mindful eater. You don’t plan what you’re going to eat — it’s more like what’s happening now, what feels meaningful in the moment, and what’s next in line for me to do. I didn’t go to medical school to work with people with eating disorders, and I certainly didn’t plan to start treatment centers, but things happen in beautiful, unexpected ways.
How do you define success?
Success is a by product of living life according to your values, interests and convictions. I think that being in a place of gratitude brings acceptance with it. You can apply this to yourself, your body, your relationships and to life itself. Sometimes, when things feel scary in life or I am unsure of how things will work out, I go to a place of gratitude.
What is your biggest success so far?
As a clinician, the complexity of eating disorders can even be more challenging because what your patient may “want” is not something you can get behind. This is where you have to read into what the behavior of the eating disorder is really after on a deeper level. We call this “the function of the eating disorder.” Understanding this with compassion and having conviction behind leading the patient through this and toward their authentic self is what allows us to create successful treatment programs. That said, we do not get it right every time.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Not only do you have to start up your business, but you also have to market your business. In addition, be prepared to wear many hats in the beginning. As your business grows, find people you are comfortable with, and begin to hand over parts of the organization that are not your passion points. If you are working with someone you are not comfortable with, talk it over. Real team players contribute in ways that lift the organization. Look for people who you can relate and connect with. Be fair and equitable to your employees. Pay them well. Allow everyone in the organization to be a leader and to shine.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
Honestly, on my darkest days, I probably use some degree of compartmentalization to push through challenges. I know many people are counting on me to bring the best version of myself to my work. I try to remember all the people who rely on me because I want to be there for them, too.
I know that if I am in a darker moment, at least there will be a time for rest at the end of the day. I have my kids, my animals, and a home that I love. So I can take some comfort in that. Sometimes it is not always a satisfying experience to be alone at the end of the day, now that I am divorced. But I lean into hope and faith in my future and take comfort in the many parts of my life that have so much more than I could have ever imagined.
Who is your most important role model?
My mom because she was the most compassionate and generous human I have ever known. And just being around that throughout my childhood, I am sure, shaped me. And my dad because he is a Holocaust survivor. During his entire imprisonment, he told me that he never once thought he might perish. That amazes me. So, knowing what he has faced and that he kept putting one foot in front of the other, and also seeing him as a dreamer and an entrepreneur, I am sure he shaped me. ◼