It’s difficult to find a professional competent in treating eating disorders. It’s even more difficult if the eating disordered person is also fat.
In the early stages of my own eating disorder, I had the benefit of a good friend who urged me towards treatment. But, as I would come to find out, receiving help for an eating disorder is easier said than done…
I first sought out counseling services at my college’s branch campus, only to have the therapist go on maternity leave and decide not to come back. The college never replaced her. I then went to the university’s main campus, which also operates a world-renowned level-5 treatment hospital facility. My therapist had told me before, that if I felt I was a danger to myself at any time, to go to the psychiatric services emergency room. One night I went, only to be dismissed by an unconcerned resident with a prescription I had no intentions on filling.
Under the university’s health plan, to begin seeing a therapist, I first needed to meet with a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist immediately put me on the defensive, questioning superficial things like my body piercings and the way I dressed.
I explained to the “good” doctor that I had an eating disorder. At the time had lost probably about 145 pounds in the previous 10 months, bringing my weight down to 160 pounds from 300 pounds – which technically, is still overweight. But instead of raising alarm signals (an average of almost 15 pounds a month weight loss is NOT healthy), the doctor told me I still had weight to lose.
I left the office and promptly lost another 20 pounds in the next month. I never did hear from the counseling center there.
Later, a therapist in another center encouraged me to have a physical. I explained to yet another medical doctor (at the university’s health clinic) that I had an eating disorder and hadn’t had a period in more than a year, experienced chest pains, and needed a physical.
After nurses did the requisite blood pressure check, all the doctor did was to order a pregnancy test, although I told them I hadn’t been sexually active in a long while.
I later got health insurance through my employer, but the quality of care did not increase. I had:
- A therapist who, when I told her I would allow myself one snack-sized bag of pretzels a day because I considered them to be a safe food (and I wasn’t eating much else), told me to be careful about eating pretzels because they were high in calories and sodium;
- Another psychiatrist (who happens to be renowned for her supposed expertise in EDs) who shamed me after I described a binging episode. The sum of her professional advice was to just “stop it.”
- One counselor who, after six months of weekly sessions, would start out each session with “Now what medications are you on again…?”
Often, the simple fact of seeking out help is the hardest obstacle for an eating disordered person to overcome. Yet, disordered people, especially fat disordered people, face a gauntlet of irresponsible, incompetent medical professionals who can’t see beyond a person’s weight to treat the real problem.
If you have an eating disorder and you are fat, don’t despair. There are competent medical professional out there. Do your homework before making an appointment. Facilities that promote Health at Every Size are usually more friendly and understanding to fat people with eating disorders.
And don’t give up. There are many possible paths to recovery; your journey may lead you down a different route.