I have lived with anorexia for over a decade. I have spent years trying to recover and had a variety of treatment experiences.
My inpatient treatment experience was in a well known hospital in the USA. There we were allowed to pick our food options, in fact we had a whole hour to meal plan and were taught how to count macros. I had no clue what macros were before treatment and was taught how to do the macro counting thing before it was a thing. It confused me more than the eating disorder. Once I got the system down then I and all the other patients would sit around planning out all meals and snacks using the macro counting system along with calories.
I realize the meal planning was meant to be helpful but for me the eating disorder latched onto more rules. I was also taught the meal plan needed to be perfect which also fed right into the illness and into the fear of doing something wrong. If we did “break one of the rules” we would get punished or firmly spoken too. There were charts with stars and if you got five stars then you were allowed to go outside for walks, otherwise you had to stay inside. We were rated on different levels.
After each meal the people with stars were allowed to go outside for walks. The walks were supervised but also fed into the eating disorder behaviour and mind frame as being allowed to walk after each meal, reinforced that after eating I should walk.
We were forced to take medicine and if you didn’t then you were considered resistant. I was switched off the medicine that was working for me and put onto another. I didn’t have a choice. I was put on medicine that didn’t make me feel good but I didn’t say anything and went along with it because I wanted to obey and follow the rules.
Once released I worked with a MD to help find medicine that worked to help treat my underlying anxiety.
In treatment I felt like I was not treated as a person but as AN. We were not spoken to as people and were treated like we were an illness. There were a couple of really nice nurses and medical assists that were so kind and it was those people who gave me hope to keep going.
Lots of rules were given and they were new rules compared to the rules my eating disorder had. I wanted and was willing to give up all my ED rules but then I was hit with a whole bunch of new rules when my mind was malnourished and overwhelmed.
I was able to stay and finish the treatment and I was told I was “cured” and that it would be in my past. I was told that I didn’t need a dietitian and that I could just decrease my calories when I felt like it. All of this was very confusing to me as I didn’t feel I was “cured” – I wish I was but I was not. I have since learned my weight was not high enough for my body and therefore I never fully recovered.
After spiraling backwards I researched all I could and gathered myself an outpatient support team.
My experience with an outpatient team is that the providers don’t have accurate up to date knowledge about anorexia nervosa and how to treat AN and ED.
Doctors have told me to exercise and that I need to eat “healthy”. I am not sure what that meant and the advice was unhelpful and triggering at the time.
The dietitians placed doubt in my mind by not wanting to give too big of a meal plan. I was told by my registered dietician (RD) that she didn’t want to scare me so she would only increase it a little. This further reinforces the AN and doesn’t teach that food is good, needs to be eaten and can be enjoyed. It doesn’t show that we need food to get out of energy deficit and the sooner you get out the better.
The therapists always focus on healing and trying to figure out the cause. What is helpful is learning skills to manage anxiety and to learn to cope with physical changes and how to navigate life without an eating disorder. Therapists want to focus on the past instead of helping us step into the future and reassuring us food is good – needed and that we can do it, we can heal from this illness.
I did attend a previous treatment place before my hospital treatment but in hindsight I see I was released once again too soon and shortly after relapsed which is when I attended the hospital. The problem with the first treatment was that I was released too soon because the time was up and the insurance would not cover and any more.
The positives from that treatment experience were that the food was given to you. You received a choice of options and you picked one and that was it – you were not allowed to overthink it as you had a set amount of time.
We were weighed each day but never told our weights.
The staff was so kind and supportive which really made a huge difference for me. It was set up so everyone ate together including staff and I thought this was great. There was a family feel to meals times which was comforting and helped with the anxiety. We were taught coping skills in groups and educated on eating disorders.
After different inpatient treatments, an outpatient team and recovery coach, I ultimately ended up doing my own research, advocating for myself, worked out what I needed to do and I am now doing it. I do check in with professionals but I have found that I need to educate them. What I have learned about the whole recovery process is to use my voice. The voice that was once silenced by the eating disorder, the voice that was afraid to speak up is the voice that is saving me.
I want everyone to know that they matter, their voice matters and that everyone can recover from an eating disorder. It doesn’t matter how long you have had the illness recovery is possible, don’t give up. I hope that treatment will soon change as the research is changing. We need treatment that is effective in helping those who need and deserve it.
You can follow Hadley on Instagram: @sassysunflower_edbasher
Have you also read Sheila’s story? – Eating Disorder Treatment Experiences – Sheila’s Story
And if you have not done so already, please see more about the petition to appeal for a review of adult eating disorder treatment services around the world – things needs to change!