Once again, an eating disorder is no excuse for not dieting

Nemohee writes…

After years of taunting and teasing by the other kids at school (who always seemed to assume that being fat also made you stupid, in addition to being ugly), I developed an eating disorder. It started out innocently at first: cutting down to 1500 calories a day, keeping a food journal, increasing my exercise, but soon it got out of hand. I was consuming NO MORE than 500 calories a day, and my poor dog nearly collapsed from the long, arduous walks I was taking him on (after which I would put him back in the yard, and proceed to exercise MORE). I was fairly proficient at hiding my low calorie intact from my parents, so they thought I was eating a healthy diet, though somewhat reduced in nature.

Naturally, I started losing weight. I lost three pounds in my first week. The next week it was four. My doctors, who had always chided me for being overweight (even going so far as to insinuate that my mother, who is heavy due to thyroid problems, was overfeeding me), were thrilled.

“Keep it up!” one responded joyously as I stepped off the scale. Never once did they stop to tell me that losing more than a pound and a half in a week was dangerous.

Three months later, I had lost enough to take me from a size 16 to a size 8. When the size 8 pants that my mother had just bought me started getting baggy, she began to scrutinize my eating habits a little more closely. Finally, the last straw came when we were in J.C. Penney trying on new clothes. My mother gasped as I was taking off my shirt.

“I can see your vertebrae!” she exclaimed. “And your ribs!” Three days later, I was back at the doctor, thought this time it was a different doctor, one who didn’t smile and nod approvingly as I described my exercise routine and my eating habits. With her help, I was able to see that what I was doing was *not* ok, and finally started re-learning to feed myself. Due to the fact that my eating was SO disordered, even for a short period of time, I no longer knew when I was full. Thus, I gained a significant amount of weight, though not anything that my doctor was worried with. I was back to just above my pre-anorexia weight.

Now, jump forward about 5 years to my Junior year of college. I was receiving my birth control from the local health department that was near my school. Because I was overweight, they monitored my blood pressure to make sure that I wasn’t at risk of a stroke or blood clot. After about 6 months of being on the new BC they had prescribed me (which I told them was the wrong dosage for me, since I had been on a low-dosage BC pill before switching to the new one), my blood pressure started going up. WAY up.

Instead of reacting rationally, and switching me to a low-dose BC, they immediately took me off the pill, and refused to give me anymore until I “lost some of that weight.” I explained, as I had done several times before, that I was a recovering anorexic (one never truly becomes a “former” anorexic), and losing weight was not an easy thing for me to do, as the chances of backsliding into my old habits were very high.  I received a stern lecture on the dangers of being overweight, and was then handed a paper bag full of condoms and booklets on weight loss. Conveniently, the pages on “over-eating” were turned down, so I could pay special attention to that.

I couldn’t say anything more to them. I simply went home, and after crying my eyes out for at least an hour, refused to eat for two days. Now, one of the side-effects that has lingered since my active bought with anorexia is hypoglycemia. If my fiance hadn’t forced me to eat something, my little encounter at the health department may very well have landed me in the hospital, comatose, or worse.

Not long after, I made the trip back home to see my primary care physician, who put me on the RIGHT dosage of birth control. (And, what do you know? I haven’t had high BP since. Strange, isn’t it?) When I told her about my experience, she hit the roof, and advised me to consult a lawyer for malpractice, which I never did. Thinking back, I probably should have, not for the money, but to teach that health department a lesson, in hopes that they would never again put another overweight girl or woman through what they put me through.

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6 Comments

  1. I work in public health, and I am so so sorry for the treatment you received. It isn’t too late to share your story with the health officer at the health department you visited.
    You deserved to be treated the way you were by your primary care physician from the start — and if the health department couldn’t do this, they needed to refer you elsewhere.
    The “lose weight first” attitude that I have heard many people (and me) experience in relation to treatment is so wrong in so many ways.
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    I too was deprived of birth control on the basis of my weight (not even with a bag of condoms) at about the same age.

    Reply
  2. spacedcowgirl

     /  November 12, 2007

    I am so sorry you went through this. The way “normal,” “overweight,” or “obese” BMI eating disorder sufferers are treated is criminal.

    Thank God for your PCP, at least. Have you recommended her on the fat-friendly health professionals site?

    Reply
  3. sso

     /  November 12, 2007

    I am so sorry that happened to you. What an astounding trigger that must have been! It’s been my experience in general that many doctors don’t take eating disorders seriously at all. There is an astounding lack of ED education in medical school, and even doctors are human, subject to brainwashing by being steeped in the surrounding culture of thin-worship.

    I’ve had a fairly serious problem with anorexia since i was 15 (i’ll be 27 next month). When I was in college, I went to the campus health clinic for a burn on my hand. Though I was 5’4.5″ and 60 lbs, the doctor did not say a word to me about my weight. I was very obviously emaciated, and no one noticed. At the time I was pleased, as I just wanted to be left alone, but in retrospect…that’s practically criminal negligence. How could any physician in their right mind release someone in that condition?

    Even now, my current doctor simply does not take my history seriously. I did well for the last two years of college, but for the past 3-4 years, it’s been a great struggle to keep my weight within shouting distance of 100 lbs. I know I should weigh more…a lot more since my body type is not naturally slim…but I also want to weigh a lot less. And so I’ve remained in limbo, weighing just enough to allow me to work, go to law school, and have a bit of fun in my very limited free time. I know it’s neither healthy nor ideal, and I’m working on that. At one point asked my doctor to please refrain from weighing me every single visit, because scales trigger me and I wind up not eating for a while afterwards. He laughed it off, said scales made him want to not eat too, and refused to seriously entertain my request. I eventually just stopped going to the doctor when I was sick, until my mother, who is also his patient, realized why. She and both of his receptionists ganged up on him and finally convinced him he should not weigh me unless there is a valid medical reason to do so. If I didn’t have such a conscientious parent who is undeterred in meddling in the life of an adult child, what then? I am at least fortunate in that my mother does not care about me being thin; all she wants is for me to be healthy.

    Reply
  4. Milla

     /  November 20, 2007

    I am fat and also in recovery from ED. I lived with bulimia and anorexia from 12 to 25.
    I have been in recovery for 15 years.
    I tried to participate in a clinical study for people in recovery from EDs fro 7 years or more but they turned me down…
    Guess why?
    Because my BMI is more than 25!!!!
    They are dealing with people in recovery from EDs and then they chew me out and turn me down and shame me because in their opinion, I am too fat.
    They made me feel like it was preferable to have the ED than to be healthy and fat which I am and it has taken years to do.
    I hate the prejudice in the healthcare industry.

    Reply
  5. mccn

     /  February 12, 2008

    Hey – I know this is an old post, sorry for rescuscitating it – but, I have been on BC for seven years. I have hypertension. And, though I’m considered overweight by the BMI, and I have gotten lectures from people about my weight, I think that in many cases I don’t always fit into the FA community, because sometimes I can “pass.”

    Why is this important?

    No one has EVER, EVER talked to me about my blood pressure and BC. I’m damn glad you said something, so I can ask – but am sorry to offer more evidence of size discrimination in medicine.

    Reply
  6. I’m late on this one too, but wow, I want to say THANK YOU. I went to Planned Parenthood last month, and they told me to lose weight (my BMI is about exactly 25 at present, was higher last winter, was much lower a few years ago). Fortunately, I am in a spot where I didn’t get really upset over it, just angry. But even a few months ago I would have gone home and really hurt myself over it. I have a history of anorexia and bulimia that was really bad at one point, which the person who told me to lose weight KNEW. And I also dealt with hypoglycemia for several months after I’d gotten back to a normal weight. Actually, the hypoglycemia is one thing that kept me from relapsing for a long time – I HAD to eat. Perhaps the most disturbing part is, I’m by every account healthier than I’ve ever been. Not just emotionally, but I’m also physically stronger, and I don’t have any health problems still lingering from my eating disorders anymore. But, according to Planned Parenthood, I need to go on a diet. An eating disorder is no excuse to not diet! Thanks for writing this. I feel really validated. And I’m really sorry you had such a horrible experience.

    Reply

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