Just because you are an adult with anorexia doesn’t mean shouldn’t have support

I’ve got a presentation coming up with the fabulous Rebecka Peebles, Rachel Millner, and Therese Waterhaus in April at AED that stems from this topic. It is titled “Why go it alone? How Family-based Treatment of Young Adults with Anorexia is Possible and Productive in Reaching a Full Recovery”

If you’re going to the ICED conference, do come and say hello!


Anorexia is not a choice, but unfortunately it is often treated like one. Children and teens with anorexia tend to be generally given more compassion (through not always) than adults do. Adults with anorexia are often treated like delinquents — especially by professional services (oh, the irony). Of course, nobody admits that. None of those glossy residential or treatment center brochures show the staff sniggering and poking fun as an adult patient weeps at a mealtime. I’ve heard many accounts of such behaviour, and a lot worse.

Just because a person is an adult, doesn’t mean that their fear of eating is any less genuine, real, or deserving of compassion and support.

To recap on why people with anorexia are scared of eating more food you can peek at this blog post here. In short, it is a non-optional fear response. That is true whether you are a child with anorexia, or an adult with anorexia. For anyone reading this who doesn’t have anorexia, It feels like you are going to explode with fear. So anyone who can snigger at an adult with anorexia sobbing over a mealtime can go fuck themselves.

What is also true, if you are an adult with anorexia, is that it is your responsibility to recover. Anorexia is not a choice, but recovery is.

Does the fact that you made the choice to recover make the fear go away? No.

So … you’ve made the choice to recover. Great! Now what? Having refed myself alone, I can tell you that it is possible, but that doesn’t make it smart or advisable. The great thing about me, is that I can be a complete prat, and I make lots of mistakes for other people to learn from. I highly advise you not to do what I did, and instead,  to be a big enough and brave enough person to ask for support.

Like, all the support. If support were a physical commodity I would be advising you to stockpile it. I would tell you to go and rent a whole storage unit just to store all your extra support in.

Of course, it has to be the support that works for you. One of the great things about having had anorexia for years (I cannot believe I just wrote that sentence) is that you have had plenty of experience in what works and what doesn’t work. So decipher what sort of support is helpful, and what is not. Also, don’t allow yourself to get all gloomy and “nothing works for me.” There is always something that works, you just might not have found it yet.

The other good thing about support, is that rather like Jelly Beans, it comes in all sorts of flavours. Professional support is just one flavour, and there a so many others to try. Family support. Friend support. Mentor support. Peer support. Online support. Group support. Coaching support. Parent support. Partner support. Meal support. Forum support. Kitten support …

I know that not everyone reading this will be in a position to ask their family for help. Some of you may not have close family relationships. That’s okay, because you get to define family.

I’ve known a number of adults who have been living independently or with partners, and who have gone home to live with their parents for the process of refeeding. I have known adults who have not been able to up sticks and go home, but have used their parents for support in other ways. I have known adults who have used their partners as recovery support. I have worked with one person who we trained up her flatmate to be able to provide meal support. I know another who moved in with her younger sister for the duration of recovery. I know plenty of people who have been supported in recovery by their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and less immediate family. Then there are people who prefer online support, as they don’t have as much as a problem actually eating as they do with dealing with the negative emotion aftermath, so they need to be able to jump online at any time and type to people who are going through the same.

I encourage you to sit down and do a stocktake of your support resources. Work out what is missing, and how you can try to fill any gaps. Ask for help from family and friends or anyone whom you trust and you know is willing/capable. Most of all, allow people to help, and work on your emotional response control so that you can attempt not to scream at people who try and help you eat.

Also, think about getting support for your support. I often coach people’s parents, partners, friends, family etc in how to provide meal support and also just in general what it feels like to have anorexia and the struggles of the recovery process.  Education is important so that people supporting you know that it is relatively normal that you might want to kill them just because they made you eat a cupcake. Online support for parents in the parent community is a brillant resource that is also there for parents of adults with anorexia. Check out FEAST and Eating Disorder Parent Support.

It’s easy to fall into the “I’m a grown-arsed person and I should be able to feel myself,” story. But so what? Regardless of yours or other people’s judgement on this, if you have anorexia you have a massive fear element to deal with. You can mess around treading water, or you can ask for help and try some things — make some changes. Move forward.

Get a wiggle on. You haven’t got another go at this life.

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