August 09, 2004 12:00 PM

Mary-Kate Olsen‘s departure from a Sundance, Utah, treatment center on July 24 was something of a stealth operation. To avoid lurking” paparazzi, she waited until the wee hours before checking out of the exclusive Cirque Lodge, where she had spent the past six weeks being treated for an eating disorder. Picked up by what a close friend calls “a small group of family and friends,” including twin sister Ashley she was whisked to the local airport for a flight back to L.A. With photographers staking put the family’s Encino home, MK checked into the Hotel Bel-Air and spent the weekend catching up with loved ones. She and Ashley have remained mostly “in their room or by the pool,” says a hotel staffer. At the London premiere of New York Minute on July 27, Ashley issued a taped video message; her sister was conspicuously absent. “Mary-Kate isn’t going to speak to anyone for now” says her rep. Still, the twins are hardly recluses. They are preparing to move to New York City, where they will be starting classes at New York University in September, and recently put down a deposit on a Bel Air house they’ll share during school breaks. Lately they have managed to slip out together, to do “a lot of things Mary-Kate hasn’t been able to for the past couple of months,” says spokesman Michael Pagnotta, “like shopping, [taking in] movies, seeing friends and going to dinner.”

Yes, Mary-Kate has an appetite now, as she demonstrated Monday night when she, Ashley and two girlfriends dropped in to one of their favorite haunts, Hamasaku, a sushi restaurant in West L.A., and dined on yellowtail and spicy tuna handrolls. “That’s their favorite thing,” says owner Toshi Kihara. “They’re very, very nice. I hadn’t seen Mary-Kate [in a while]. They were eating a lot.” Adds a friend: “She’s enjoying being out and about.”

Is Mary-Kate trying to do too much too soon? For many people with anorexia, says Dr. Craig Johnson, director of the Eating Disorders Program at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital in Tulsa, Okla., “the treatment Would be more in the three-month range. Before we discharge someone, we like to be sure we have; fully weight-restored them.” Says Carolyn Costin, director of the Monte Nido Treatment Center and the Eating Disorder Center of California: “Sometimes people go in for a short stay as an inpatient and then follow it up with further treatment on an outpatient basis.” After leaving a treatment center, she says, a patient “should be on a weight-gain protocol that somebody is monitoring to make sure she is able to gain the weight outside the hospital setting.” Initially, says Costin, a patient might see a therapist as often as every day.

Pagnotta confirms that Mary-Kate is now in private therapy. “The reason she went [into treatment] was to take care of herself, and that goal was achieved,” he says. “But it’s the beginning of a process, and it’s ongoing.”

At Cirque Lodge, says an insider, Mary-Kate’s treatment included hiking, horseback riding and rope-climbing. “It’s a rigorous outdoor treatment routine called experiential therapy,” says this source. “The idea is for the client to push her limits and learn to trust.” For example, while riding in the lodge’s corral, Mary-Kate, a competitive equestrian, would have “learned how to trust the horse—that it wasn’t going to hurt her. It’s the same with the rope course. You learn that if you fall, you’ll be safe. Somebody will catch you.”

Even as MK’s therapy continues, success is not guaranteed. The relapse rate is high. “[Only] about a third of patients will be able to fully recover within three years,” says Dr. Johnson. “The concerns anorexics have about their size and their shape generally result in them getting frightened and wanting to reduce their weight again,” he says.

What might keep Mary-Kate motivated is the outpouring of support from her fans—and their parents, thousands of whom phoned the Olsens’ publicist “because their daughters were really concerned about her,” says Pagnotta. “The good thing that’s come from this is that a lot of young girls are talking about [eating disorders] in a way that they haven’t in a long time. [They know] you don’t have to be a wealthy, famous actress to have this problem.”

Mike Lipton. Julie Jordan, Kwala Mandel and Rachel Biermann in Los Angeles, Cathy Free in Utah and Meredith Nadler in London

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