seriousness of eating disorders

“There, there, it will all be okay,” are exactly the words your ED wants you to hear.

When one tells a person with an ED to recover when they are ready, one mulcts them of time spent ED free.

I had this fantastically enlightening email conversation with a reader today. Let’s call her Jennifer. We were going back and forth over some questions about recovery that she had for me. She is an adult sufferer and had come to a point in her recovery path where she realised that her ED—while mostly manageable and camouflaged to the onlooker—was still hugely in control of her life.

That’s a story I know all too well.

Anyhow, what really stood out to me was when she wrote me this:

Hi Tabitha,

I read your email and then abruptly “marked as unread,” telling myself I’d come back to it.  Your words scared me. Because you were talking to ME, not my ED. And there is something about an ED that seeks out and clings to any kind of enabling or affirming words (The “Recover YOUR way in YOUR time” brand of support that I don’t think really moves a person to action.)

I like this girl a lot already—that’s an incredibly perceptive response, don’t you think?

She understands that there are words her ED wants her to hear.

She understands that her ED doesn’t want her to take action now.

She understands that her ED prefers it when people tell her “There, there, it will all be okay … “.

I don’t mince my words. And I certainly don’t pussyfoot around ED stuff. What prompted that email from Jennifer was what I wrote to her last week:

… This is very real. No shit your eating disorder can ruin your life, your relationships, and your body. I am happy that you are scared as it is this fear that his going to help you do this. I lost ten years to Anorexia. I lost ten years of knowing people. I lost ten years of my family and friends. I lost ten years of laughter, happiness, emotion. The thing that is most important is that I only lost ten years—not 12, or 15, or 20, or more. 

You know, you want to be able to take a family vacation without obsessing in your head so much about what you are going to eat that you miss out on all the conversations and being present with your husband and little girl. You want to be able to go over to friends house’s for BBQs and actually be present and listen to them rather than being fraught with anxiety about what might be served. These things are the things that add color to life, and I cannot tell you how much richer my life has been since the obsession and thoughts stopped. 

No shit your eating disorder can ruin your life. No shit your eating disorder can kill you.

I don’t think that there is enough of this in the ED world. I hear so much of the “Recover when you feel ready,” and “take it at your own pace,” and it infuriates me because it belittles what an ED can do to a person—speaking down to EDs is another form of making them sound like inconsequential character flaws that aren’t all that important.

An ED is not to be treated like a work-in-progress personal-improvement plan such as trying to get better at speaking in public or trying to be better at getting rid of wardrobe clutter.

I understand that people like to be comforting, but there is a time and a place for everything. Anyone who is suffering from an eating disorder needs a very realistic understanding of what they are dealing with. If they don’t have this they cannot recover. If you want to be kind, don’t tell an ED sufferer that it will all be okay and they can recover when they are good and ready. The longer a person has an ED the harder it is to reach full recovery—so be kind by pushing them to do it now. This is serious shit!

Here is how I went on to explain that to Jennifer:

… I think that mollycoddling an ED in the way that we speak about them is very common, but I think that this is also very dangerous. It shows the extent to which people do not understand how deadly EDs are. 

For example, it would not be okay for a Dr or anyone else to say to someone diagnosed with cancer “It’s okay, take your time and recover when you are ready.”

Basically, talking down to EDs is one of the things that enables them. That’s why I will tell you the scary truth: you will only ever live a half life unless you abolish your ED. And that is the best case scenario. Worst case is that it will kill you. 

I’ve had those conversations too. Mostly with my parents, as I was at my worst pre-hubby. But I’ve had them with him also in relapses. Him telling me that he was not attracted to my thin body was GREAT for me. Yeah it hurt at the time, but it motivated me to fight harder. 

I’d love to hear your own thoughts and feelings on this one.

Have you any experience of your ED or your child’s ED being talked down to by a treatment provider?

Do you think this type of ED lessens the sense of urgency and necessity of treatment?


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