February 11, 2011
I am an adult sufferer of anorexia. I know that FEAST and ATDT are not intended for the sufferer, but I stumbled upon them after discovering Carrie’s wonderful blog. I continue to visit ATDT frequently as I have found it incredibly helpful in understanding why I have behaved in ways that baffle me and why I have continued to struggle despite multiple inpatient admissions and years of therapy. I never realized how much of this disorder was biology-driven and how key full nutrition is to the recovery process. In reflecting upon the treatment provided by the eating disorder treatment centers, I am shocked to realize how patients are almost set up for relapse as they are discharged at low weights and prescribed calorie levels that are too low to achieve true weight restoration.
When I developed anorexia as a teen, my parents were both alcoholics and would not have been able or fit to offer the round the clock support and feedings that the parents of ATDT provide to their loved ones. I understand that it isn’t always possible for the family to take an ideal united front against ED, but I’m not giving up. As an adult, I am working closely with my therapist and dietitian who both believe firmly in full nutrition and the biological impact of starvation and they are providing a firm but caring approach in helping me to learn to re-parent myself since I am an adult and need to take the responsibility for feeding myself even when ED screams at me.
I wish though that I could go back in time to even just last year when I was in the hospital and refer the desperate parents of some of the teens, pre-teens, and young adults that I was in treatment with to FEAST and ATDT. The program I attended had “family group night” once a week and the patients and family members would meet for a blended group. The patients and family members would often be split into small groups in which sufferers would be paired with family members of other patients and given topics or problems to discuss. The thought was that it would be helpful for the family members to hear from eating disorder sufferers other than their own sons or daughters so that they would realize that they were far from alone in experiencing the madness of an eating disorder. A therapist was present for this group, but with 12 – 14 patients and 1 – 4+ family members (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents) in attendance, it was not possible for her to facilitate all of individual groups nor answer the many questions the families had.
It was tough looking into the eyes of these bewildered parents and seeing their desperation. I think it may have scared them a bit to see me as an adult patient still in treatment after 20 years as they certainly wouldn’t want their children to enter into the revolving door of treatment centers. We were given discussion topics such as how to discourage food policing, but we’d always get off topic as the parents had other questions. The most common one was “why is my child acting this way and how do I know how much of this is the eating disorder and how much is my son or daughter acting like a teenager and fighting for independence?” I think the parents were very confused as they had not been taught to separate ED from their child and were kept so far at bay from treating the eating disorder that they were afraid to set limits or even be a parent. That’s why I wish I could go back and tell them about FEAST. It probably would have been frowned upon by the treatment program as so many of their core treatment values are in direct conflict with FEAST’s (the program advocated recovery or relapse as a sufferer’s choice, exchange based meal plan with the patients as young as 10 planning and preparing their own food, parent’s staying out of the food, no weight talk, no food talk, no food policing, etc), but I firmly believe in your advocacy and that your message would have proven invaluable to these families. I want to thank you for all that you and the other members of FEAST are doing.
Added: You absolutely have my permission to publish my letter if you wish. I’m not surprised that there are many sufferers that visit the forum. Although resistance and denial are key features of the disease, often we’ll reach a point where we want to stop somehow or at the very least understand how we got sucked into the hell that is ED. And when I read about the belief that this is a biologically based illness and how the mindset takes hold with starvation, I was so relieved. It was an OMG moment to realize that I’m not to blame, I didn’t choose this, and I’m not crazy; I’m sick but I can get better.