I told myself to be brave. I told myself it wouldn’t be that bad. I told myself it would be worth it. Oh boy I was so wrong.
I was diagnosed with an eating disorder when I was a sophomore in high school. In reality, my illness had developed long before that, but I finally began receiving treatment and was given a diagnosis when I was 15. My journey to and through treatment was saturated with doctors. Doctors for this obscure symptom and that one. I was shuffled around from office to office, week after week, with few answers. I know that this was not the fault of these doctors. I believe they were genuinely trying to help me (I wasn’t really giving them any help there), and I genuinely believe that there are incredible physicians and caregivers in the field who offer great support and treatment to those with eating disorders. Unfortunately, it just took me a while to find them. (If you are looking for this, look here!)
Being a 15 year old girl is hard enough already. Throw in a serious eating disorder, a general pattern of anxiety, and when you are looking to the people who are supposed to be helping but aren’t, you get someone who really hates going to the doctor.
I have ‘successfully’ avoided going to the doctor’s for years. After I concluded treatment and was living in recovery, I could not bring myself to go back. Despite sometimes having real reasons to see a professional, I was so worried about what they would or wouldn’t say that I would avoid it at all costs and I don’t think I’m alone in that.
I was terrified that because I no longer ‘looked’ like I had an eating disorder, they would say or do something that would send me into a downward spiral. I now recognize and understand that there is absolutely no such thing as ‘looking’ like you have an eating disorder. (See Here and Here)
Unfortunately, I had reason to worry.
After much strife, fear, and coercion, I made an appointment. I walked in there with my head held high. I was forthcoming with my medical history- not glossing over or withholding my eating disorder. I stepped backwards on the scale- not even sneaking a peak. I explained why I was there and what I hoped the doctor could help me with regarding my health. I shared the network of support I still have, mentioning that I continue to see a nutritionist. I learned a lot in treatment, and I used all my tools.
I swear nothing else in a doctor’s office is as clear, or as direct as this. A giant red stamp started flashing on the computer, which might I add is fully visible- no way to block it out- reading, no screaming “OVERWEIGHT”.
As far as the conversation regarding my symptoms, and any remedy for them, the conversation stopped there.
The doctor turned to me, “I assume that’s why you’re seeing the nutritionist, to get back in control of your weight, right? I think most of these symptoms will abate through weight-loss.”
I legitimately did not know what to say. I didn’t even know how to feel. It felt like a punch in the gut but that would have been impossible because in my mind, my body had already fallen to the floor and curled up in a little ball.
It wasn’t so much the fear of being thought of as fat, or actually called fat to my face. I had done a lot of work on that in my heart, and really was living in freedom. What got me, what continues to get me, is that the only measure of my “health” was my weight. It didn’t matter that I was in recovery from a severe eating disorder. It didn’t matter that I had been living underweight and malnourished for years. It didn’t matter that I was a triathlete, who ran, swam, or biked every day. It didn’t matter that I eat intuitively and a wide variety of wholesome foods. It didn’t matter that my blood work was normal, that my life was overall successful, and that I was genuinely happy. The one factor considered, was the weight of my body.
It broke my heart. It broke my heart for my 10-year-old self who was crippled by shame about her body, but more than that, it broke my heart for what I believe to be the millions of men and women who are shamed in the doctor’s office, in their family, in their workplace, and by themselves, because weight is considered the ultimate determinate in health.
The definition, this understanding of health, does not help people to become healthier. It prevents those who need help from getting it. It shames those who are healthy into believing they are not. On every level and in every way, it creates chaos, hurt, and suffering.
It needs to change.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or you are struggling in finding a doctor, there actually are great resources out there. I have found an incredible network of support, with phenomenal doctor's and nutritionists who are health-minded, not weight-focused, and who have helped thousands of people.
Contact the Upstate New York Eating Disorder Service if you are struggling (877-765-7866). They have the staff and the resources to assist the entire range of eating disorders and nutritional needs.