Hi, I'm Brooke! I've been in post-recovery from my eating disorder for about 5 years now and, although I still struggle from time to time, I do like to reflect back on my experience and journey through treatment just to remind myself of the strong bad ass woman that I am and to see how far I've travelled down this long, windy & bumpy road to recovery.
I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa when I was at the age of 20 after suffering for a little over 2 years with starvation, excessive exercise and severe body dysmorphia. When my parents first brought me to the hospital for an evaluation on my health, I was told by the medical professionals that I wouldn't live to see my 21st birthday if I kept up with the behaviours I was emulating. Well, look at me now, Ma! I'm 26 and living my life to its very fullest!
When I was finally admitted to the hospital for a very intensive treatment program, I was a little surprised to learn that I was the youngest patient amongst the others with being 20 years old.
DSCL: Eating Disorders - and mental health - do NOT discriminate based on age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, family/marital status, or any other group. Eating disorders also vary in severity so don't just "assume" someone has an eating disorder based on their physical appearance - there's a lot of underlying mental aspects to eating disorders which is what makes them such a complex disease to understand.
As I began to navigate my way through treatment and familiarize myself with the "Dos" and "Don'ts" and the "Cans" and "Cannots," I realized that I was not at all prepared for everything I was about to endure - although, how could I? This was indeed my first rodeo.
I remember my first "infraction" as they would call it, which was committed on my first day. I was "standing" for too long in my room while I was to get myself settled in and comfortable in my new home. So yes folks, you can and WILL get in trouble for standing too long in eating disorder treatment.
I had devised up a little list of some of the things you aren't told about eating disorder treatment coming from my own experience in a program that might differ from others.
Some of these might seem a little extreme, excessive or just downright unnecessary, but the nurses and dieticians that facilitated the program have seen it all and it was done for benefit and sake of the patients to ensure a successful completion of the program and to prioritize a more healthy and sustainable relationship with food.
1. Bedroom & bathroom doors don't lock.
This might seem like a given granted safety reasons. I was only allowed to close my bedroom door when I was getting changed (5 minute time limit) or getting an ECG done. Bathroom doors were strictly not allowed to lock even if we were using the facility or in the showers AND each bathroom door had little windows at the bottom so the nursing and dietician staff could peak in if we were taking too long or heard abnormal noises - again, it was for our safety and priority of being successful at treatment.
2. Our mealtimes had time limits & we were required to sit for a certain amount of time to eliminate urges to purge (for those of us who had this issue).
Our mealtimes were allotted certain time limits depending on the meal (30 minutes for breakfast; 15 minutes for snacks & 1 hour for lunch & dinner) for the purpose of normalizing a balanced eating pace. After each meal, we were required to sit for the same amount of time we had to eat in order to properly digest our food and eliminate any urges to purge or exercise for those of us who struggled with such issues after eating.
3. We were required to have a "fear food" or a "bad food" at least 3 times a week inclusive of "treat outings."
On Wednesday mornings, each patient planned their own menu for the week where we had choices of entres for each meal & finalized them with our dieticians. At least 3 out of the 5 days we had to choose a - what's considered a "fear" or "bad" food - as a dessert after lunch and this was INCLUSIVE of any "treat outings" that we would do as a group on a Friday. So some weeks we could be eating 3-4 of those pesky fear foods a week but that's what's considered NORMAL. Believe it or not, normalized eating means TREATING YOURSELF AND NOT FEELING GUILTY FOR IT.
4. There was absolutely ZERO "food talk" at any point in time unless it was done privately with our own therapist to benefit our treatment process.
You might have heard that people with eating disorders are obsessed with food and that's because it's all we think about every single day. While in treatment, we were prohibited from having any food talk at any given point unless we did it in private sessions with our nurses, dieticians or therapists. There was no sharing of our own fear foods, favourite foods, comfortable foods, foods we used as an outlet or ways to help us eat, nadda. It was a trigger for a lot of patients and could actually cause some harmful impact on their treatment process so it was better off unsaid.
5. We had to ask for permission to use things like razors, hair straighteners/curlers/blow dryers, etc.
We were allowed to bring these items with us into treatment but were kept in the nurses office at all times. When the time came for showers, I had to ask the nurse for permission to use my razor where she would have me fill out a form stating that I was going to "be safe" with it and vowed I didn't have any urges for self-harm. The same form was used when I wanted to use my hair straightener in the morning (as burning was a form of self-harm).
6. We had to earn "privileges" which turned into freedom-ish..
When I first got to treatment, I had to hand over personal belongings such as my phone and wasn't allowed to have it unless I was out for the afternoon 30 minute break for which was also something that had to be earned. In order to earn those privileges, I had to prove to the dieticians, nurses and other medical professionals that I was doing well in treatment, and that meant gaining my weight, eating my meals, not restricting or exercising, and participating in group. It was a small price to pay but it eventually meant that I was able to go home for 2 days over the Christmas holiday only after being there for 3 very long and intense weeks.
7. We weren't able to use the washroom whenever we wanted.
To use the washroom came as a privilege. There were specified times that were allotted for "bathroom breaks" and only for an emergency were we allowed to use the washroom outside of the specified break time. Our times were before meals, group sessions, breaks and bed. Even during the night the bathroom doors remained locked and we had to leave the unit, go to the nurses station and ask for a nurse to come and unlock the door and wait outside so we weren't doing anything we shouldn't be doing.
8. It'll feel like you are CONSTANTLY eating..
For someone with an eating disorder, all we focus on is food and how we so badly want to eat it but feel intense guilt immediately after. Going into treatment allowed me to eat the food I desperately wanted to while learning how to mitigate those guilty feelings, BUT it felt as if I was always eating. Our meal plans were tailored to our specific needs when we entered treatment, so not all patients were eating the same foods and had minor tweaks to the amounts. At one point, my meal plan consisted of me having a full breakfast, a morning snack, lunch with dessert, an afternoon snack, dinner with dessert and an evening snack before bed.. Yes, this is a completely normal thing to do and a 100% healthy way to eat and I'm learning that eating this way is how to sustain a healthy functioning body. Huh, who woulda thunk it?
9. The dieticians and medial professionals are NOT trying to sabotage you.
This is an important one. The last thing the medical professionals are trying to do in an eating disorder treatment program is sabotage their patients, let that be abundantly clear. The foods they encourage us to eat are perfectly healthy, normal foods that are required to have and sustain a healthy functioning body that is able to carry on with our daily lives. The foods are meant for exposure and proof that by eating a slice of cake or pie isn't going to have any adverse affects on the physicality of your body! It's going to make you feel good by the amount of energy your body will begin producing and the focus you'll be able to have on other important things in life that have nothing to do with the amount of calories you just consumed. The medical professionals are there to guide you through your fears centered around food and weight, and provide you with the support and encouragement to establish a new relationship with food. Even in my post-recovery there are days I feel I'm being sabotaged but then I think back to those very same feelings about the people that gave me my life back. Now, how can that be considered sabotage?!
10. You'll have your life and freedom back.
It goes to say that no one can really understand what it's like to have an eating disorder unless you've ever actually had one. It's also hard for people with eating disorders to explain to people what it's like to have one without sounding like a lunatic or attention seeking. In fact, eating disorders are sooooo complex that really, it can seem that anyone who's dieting or has body dysmorphia has an eating disorder. All with the constant fear and guilt surrounded by food, consumption of thoughts and compromises with food and exercise, and feelings of hatred towards your physical appearance are all things people with eating disorders are trapped by. BUT one of the most important gifts treatment has given me is my life. I've now successfully completed college and am well on my way to pursuing a career in law, I am engaged to the love of my life and planning our happily ever after together, I have a full time job that I absolutely love and I've moved on to much bigger and better things than anything I could have had if I was still trapped in the cycle of my vicious eating disorder.