This is the first of a series of blogs aimed at eating disorder professionals. This series was inspired by the members of the recovery Slack group.
“Pampering” as a restoration component of many IP systems is particularly troubling. I have actually had IP treatments where ‘goal weight’ has been ‘negotiable’ and in a downward stance…not helpful when in our most inner beings and sense of what is ‘right’ for our personal wellness and recovery…we intrinsically ‘know’ this is not right…often too low for true physical and mental recovery. I find it crucial for IP systems to acknowledge that weight restoration is merely the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to anorexia and ED recovery.” – Anon, adult in recovery from Anorexia
This “pampering” when it comes to weight gain as described above is a frequent topic of conversation when I talk to my clients about past treatment experiences. Of course, we are all resistant to gaining weight. That’s part and parcel of the disorder. But, that doesn’t mean that deep down we know we need to gain weight. Our resistance to doing so doesn’t mean that we don’t feel let down when you give us a target weight that we know is too low. That makes us feel like what is the point in trying to eat more or start recovery at all, because to achieve the target weight you have set us we are going to have to spend a lifetime dieting. Likewise with daily caloric intakes. People who are malnourished need to eat a lot more food than the general population. Yet many of the meal plans I see prescribe less food in a day your average person eats.
Stop prescribing restrictive diets to people in recovery from restrictive eating disorders
Don’t give people with Anorexia caloric ceilings. Don’t discourage binge eating. Binge eating is a natural response to a period of starvation and when it is discouraged you are actually encouraging us to over-ride our innate desire to eat a lot. That’s what Anorexia does — we don’t need you to do it too.
Yes, sadly many of you set target weights for people in recovery from Anorexia that mean we will have to gain some weight but always be dieting in order to stay at your target weight. Do you understand how painful this is? Do you understand how ludicrous this is? You are putting people in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder on a restrictive eating plan for life. That is cruel. Stop it.
We don’t need you to pamper our resistance to gaining weight. We don’t need you to collude with our disorder and set a low target weight. This doesn’t equal freedom for us. Anything short of full remission is purgatory and when you set low target weights or low daily caloric intakes you are setting us up to forever be trapped in a half-life. Sure, we may be physically less out of danger of death, but that alone is not enough to live a free and happy life. Remission is more than weight gain. The mental freedom from the disorder that makes life worth living and recovery worth fighting for comes only when we can eat unrestricted. If allowing someone to eat unrestricted makes you uncomfortable then you are in the wrong field of work.
Stop trying to control weight gain
Most clinicians pamper the ED which feels safe but that not the aim here. We need just support in the process and reassurance. I just get told to keep to a set number which is in my opinion rations. So if I agree to go in IP I don’t think it will help. – Anon, adult with anorexia
Rather than giving people the illusion that they can control their weight gain, support than in knowing that their body will take care of them so long as they eat unrestricted. Controlling weight gain = restriction and rationing. It also illustrates your own fears. If you are happy in your own body and trust your body to operate as it needs to without your interference, you will know that it does just that. You will know that if you don’t diet and restrict your body finds set point weight range and equilibrium is found. Do not project your own fears and insecurities onto your clients.
We don’t need to control the way in which we gain weight. The body knows what it is doing. Some people gain fast, some people gain slow. If supported to eat without restriction a person will end up at the weight that their body is designed to be. Gain fast or gain slow you will end up in the same place. The idea that we should control weight gain by restriction is ridiculous. Anorexia lives in restriction, but that’s not all … restriction gives the brain signals that food is not abundant, which makes the mental hunger stronger. When we gain weight while restricting we are doing only that: gaining weight. In order to reach remission we have to gain weight and change the neural pathways of restriction, hence the irony of “helping” someone by thinking they can control their rate of weight gain with restriction.
Do not replace ED rules with your own
Not to replace ED rules with ‘their’ rules eg drinks only 250ml, at set time, in set mug and in one place I was IP at set temperature – Anon, adult with Anorexia
As illustrated above, many clinicians and treatment centres try to treat people with Anorexia by making up arbitrary food rules. Oh the irony. You are trying to treat an eating disorder which is often high in OCD behaviors with prescriptive eating schedules, types of food, quantity of food, eating times, and even down to the temperature of the food!
For adults with Anorexia I think that the biggest insult here is being treated like naughty schoolchildren. In terms of recovery progress this is another example of how to keep someone alive in a living hell. I have plenty of clients who come out of treatment centres with more rules then they went in with.
Treat every person as an individual. Show us that freedom to eat what we want when we want is there for us. What motivation do you think you are giving us when you illustrate recovery as meal plans and measured-out cereal for life?
Stop making recovery more complicated than it is
Recovery from Anorexia is a process of eating a lot of food, gaining weight, and stopping all OCD-ED behaviors. This is simple. It is not easy, but it is simple. Therapy is not needed to eat food (but it is helpful for some people). Humans did really well eating food before scales were invented, therefore measuring is not required to eat food. Prescriptive meal plans are not required to eat food. “Exchanges” are not required to eat food.
Does that mean we don’t need you? NO! We need your support because we are terrified of eating in the way that our mental hunger wants us to. We really really need you. But we need you to be helpful, not to pamper the illness, not to put us on diets.
What do we need from you?
Support to eat unrestricted.
Encouragement to eat the foods we are most scared of.
Trust in our own bodies to sort this out if we provide the fuel.
We need to look at you and believe that recovery is worth fighting for.
We need to see freedom.
What we don’t need from you is another voice telling us to be sacred of eating.