What I Dread Hearing From My Doctors About My Eating Disorder
Every time I have an appointment with a doctor, I dread the time for it to come. It brings up memories of the not-so-distant past when I was visiting my physician once a week to check my heart, electrolytes and weight. I am reminded of the days when I struggled with my anorexia, before I had a proper care team or had my disordered eating under control. I know the moment they open my chart and see the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, the questions and subsequent lecturing will begin.
It all starts with that seemingly simple question I know all too well: “How has your eating been going?” The thing is, they don’t actually seem to be interested in my response, because no matter what I say — good, bad, or otherwise — they immediately start talking the moment I stop. Then I get the typical rundown of how my disordered eating behaviors affect my body and the potential long-term health consequences. I listen as they tell me my heart muscle is weakening and my bone density is decreasing due to my restriction. They tell me I’m at risk for a heart attack and anemia. I sit quietly and listen to this lecture I’ve heard many times before. It’s as if they think if they keep repeating it to me, maybe then I’ll understand and truly “get it” — but I do get it. I know the reality of what I’m doing to my body, and continually telling me why what I’m doing is “bad” only makes me feel guiltier and leads to an even greater desire to engage with my urges.
Then comes the next question: “Do you want children?” While I don’t know if I do or don’t want children at this point in my life, I do know this question hurts. Putting on a show of the things I may desire — and may have already lost — is painful. I can’t even imagine how it must feel to hear this question if you want kids and know that possibility is in jeopardy. Hearing this question also makes me feel as though the doctor doesn’t think I have given any thought to my future. In fact, it was thinking about my future that partially put me in the hospital to begin with.
After that comes the spiel about how I need to be eating a balanced diet and three whole meals a day, adding up to some number of calories recommended for my height and age. Again, this frustrates me. It goes against everything I’ve learned in recovery. In my experience, three meals a day has not worked for me. I instead strive to eat five smaller meals throughout the day. Also, giving me a target number of calories to eat immediately gets my disordered eating behaviors going. They have just given me a challenge, a number to avoid reaching at all costs. This contradicts my lifestyle of intuitive eating in which I try to eat balanced meals, eat when I feel hungry and stop when I am full.
I know the doctors are well-intentioned, but I feel their probing reflects a need for increased education about eating disorders. Eating disorders are about so much more than just food. They have a deeper function that can often be difficult to understand — and even more difficult to find a healthy replacement for. Telling me not to do something that would hurt myself isn’t helpful. Instead, please try listening to the person who is or has struggled without interrogating them.
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If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
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