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7 People With Eating Disorders Share What Eating Disorder Treatment Centers Do Well and How They Can Improve

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

Many people who live with eating disorders end up seeking treatment at for-profit eating disorder treatment centers. Though everyone’s treatment experiences look different, eating disorder treatment centers typically strive to help clients process their feelings surrounding their eating disorders and heal their relationships with food. Although some treatment centers successfully help clients reach full recovery, there are still a variety of areas in which treatment centers as a whole can improve. For National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I asked current and former eating disorder treatment clients from all walks of life what eating treatment centers do well and how they can improve. Here’s what they had to say.

What Eating Disorder Treatment Centers Do Well

1. Eating disorder treatment centers may save lives in life-or-death situations.

“[Eating disorder treatment centers] save lives when it’s a matter of life or death.” -Adele

2. Eating disorder treatment centers may treat co-occurring trauma.

“I like when [eating disorder] treatment centers also treat trauma because eating disorders have a connection to trauma in many cases.” -Tali

“I think a lot of [eating disorder treatment centers] are equipped with a lot of trauma-informed practices for things like abuse.” -Rebecca

3. Eating disorder treatment centers may employ therapists with a variety of backgrounds.

“I felt that having a Latina therapist that led groups every other day was really key in my path to recovery. Having someone whose background was similar to mine — with whom I shared a language, customs, and traditions — helped me open up. She understood the cultural nuances that explained a lot of my trauma.” -Mishna

4. Eating disorder treatment centers may build community.

“I think eating disorder treatment centers build community well… and that can be… a strength if it’s addressed properly. I have come out of inpatient and residential treatment for my eating disorder with amazing friends and supports, some of which are still close to me in my life now… I think that we become very close with peers and staff in treatment, and it’s a matter of how we navigate those relationships.” -Jocelyn

4. Eating disorder treatment centers may foster independence in recovery.

“[The eating disorder treatment center I went to] would take us grocery shopping with the aid of the dietician. That really helped me become more independent in my ED recovery.” -Rebecca 

5. Eating disorder treatment centers may affirm clients on their good days and support clients on their harder days.

“The best treatment centers I’ve been to have given clients opportunities to affirm each other — both on ‘good’ days and days that are harder. At those treatment centers, staff would also make themselves available to help clients when they were having a hard time. It was clear to me that these centers truly cared about their clients at every stage of recovery and wanted to create a supportive, recovery-motivated environment.” -Kelly 

6. Eating disorder treatment centers can help clients bond with people in similar circumstances.

“[Because of my time in treatment, I gained] a few of my… best friends!” -Anna

What Eating Disorder Treatment Centers Need to Improve

1. Eating disorder treatment centers could treat a wider variety of eating disorders.

“[Many eating disorder treatment centers] don’t really treat [avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)] or [binge-eating disorder (BED)].  They are [often] so focused on anorexia and bulimia [that] I haven’t been able to find the treatment I need.” -Tali

“[Treatment centers often] cater to restrictive [eating disorders] and people with ARFID [and] BED are [often] made to feel very out-of-place because [these centers usually] do not give much support at all for anything besides anorexia.” -Anna

2. Eating disorder treatment centers could be equipped to treat clients with all types of physical and emotional needs.

“[In residential treatment], I shared a room with three other women, which as an introvert was very overwhelming. We [also] went to different buildings throughout the day, but as someone with a physical disability, I found it hard to keep up. In my experience, I’ve usually been one of the first people with a disability that my [eating disorder] providers in treatment have had. I have yet to find [an eating disorder treatment center] that treats medical trauma [as well as other types of trauma].” -Rebecca 

“[Treatment centers] often cannot [or] do not accommodate [people with] physical illnesses. The schedule is [also typically] way too structured and busy for someone with chronic fatigue. Being forced to stay awake for 16 to 18 hours straight and told to stand in groups if you can’t stay awake doesn’t work for people like me who need [at least] 11 hours of sleep and naps.” -Adele

3. Eating disorder treatment centers could personalize food challenges to fit each client’s needs.

“I was always yearning to receive challenges that felt personal to me [in treatment]… The food challenges seemed generic, and I wish they had tailored them to each person. It sometimes made me feel bad when I saw others not struggling with the challenge meal.” -Mishna

4. Eating disorder treatment centers could find ways to feel less competitive.

“Putting a bunch of competitive and sick people together and then adding stress (food and change) [can make it easy for things] to go wrong. There’s [often] so much competition in treatment, and comparisons [with other clients can be] detrimental.” -Adele

5. Eating disorder treatment centers could update how they treat eating disorders over time.

“In my opinion, treatment for eating disorders is [often] very outdated. [I have been in and out of treatment] since I was 13, [but mostly] nothing has changed. [Some companies] are very black-and-white with the way they go about [care]… and there is [often] no diversity at all. The environments can feel very toxic, staff may have [few] or no boundaries and [often are not] held accountable for it, and most of them [seem] so burnt-out that they [may] barely function as supportive staff members. They could hire more diverse people [in terms of] size, race, [sexual orientation and gender].” -Anna

6. Eating disorder treatment centers could treat clients intersectionally.

“Eating disorder treatment is often equipped to treat one type of client, and that’s typically a client who is considered a ‘majority’ in society in many ways. I think treatment centers need to hire staff that respect and affirm clients’ minority backgrounds and also need to be better equipped to accommodate clients with disabilities and to accept clients who may have difficulty finding treatment due to their genders or other aspects of their backgrounds. Everyone deserves affirming, accessible eating disorder treatment!” -Kelly

7. Eating disorder treatment centers could dismantle practices that cause clients trauma.

“In the eating disorder [treatment] world, punishment is still [often] run-of-the-mill, despite current literature and studies suggesting punishment and ‘breaking’ people doesn’t work. I have been put in solitary for three weeks straight to try to ‘break’ me.’” -Adele 

“[Eating disorder] treatment left me with severe trauma. In order to improve, I think ED [treatment] centers need to completely restructure — get rid of restraint, seclusion, force-feeding, and carceral practices — as well as create a more diverse space for people [with] all types of [eating disorders] and [from all] backgrounds.” -Jocelyn 

Eating disorder treatment centers can help some clients reach recovery, but there is also plenty for them to improve upon. Hopefully, they’ll listen to the clients they serve and will be able to make changes that will help as many clients as possible seek out treatment that truly serves their needs.

Getty image by Cultura RM Exclusive/Twinpix.

Originally published: February 24, 2022
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