When Help Isn’t Helpful

When Help for an Eating Disorder Isn't HelpfulSince eating disorders are so complicated, it’s imperative to get help in working through the various issues related to the eating disorder. This often involves seeing a counselor, a doctor and a dietitian. Some may also attend support groups or be involved in other eating disorder recovery programs. Professionals are there to help eating disorder sufferers recover. But what happens when their help isn’t helpful?

I don’t often share about my experience in this regard. I don’t want to discourage anyone from reaching out for needed help and support. On the other hand, if someone else is having a similar experience to mine, I want to encourage them to focus on what will help them move forward in their recovery and leave the rest behind.

I wasn’t willing to see a dietitian until almost six years into my anorexic experience. After a long relapse, I had decided to fight the eating disorder again, and I knew I needed a meal plan. Even then, it wasn’t easy to make the call to set up an appointment. However, the dietitian I spoke with told me that she’d had a roommate at one time who was bulimic. That put me at ease a bit as I felt she would understand some aspects of what I was going through. She’d asked me to write down what I was eating prior to that first appointment. When I gave it to her, she reviewed it and commented that my intake wasn’t that bad, but that she would formally evaluate it prior to the following appointment. Even “I” knew that I wasn’t eating enough. She began to explain portion sizes as well as how many servings from each food group I should eat each day. She stated that she wouldn’t just leave me hanging, but would follow through with me. She also invited me to join her weight loss support group. I didn’t expect that and thought her suggestion was quite inappropriate. In addition, she gave me an article about a woman who went to a facility to lose weight. I didn’t know how she thought that was going to help an anorexic woman.

During the second appointment, I told her about how I was trying to follow the meal plan and get into a routine with it as well as how I was challenged by doing that. She flippantly commented that I didn’t need to be “anal” about following it. What? I thought that statement was completely lacking in compassion and was very inappropriate coming from a professional. Also, after evaluating my intake, she said I was lacking nutrition in many areas. That wasn’t news to me, but she acted like it was news to her.

At the third appointment she commented that she found it “interesting” that I would cut back my intake so drastically if I gained weight. What did she think people with eating disorders do regarding their food intake anyway? She also said that she’d done what she could do for me. I didn’t expect that since she’d previously told me she would follow through with me. Of course, her comments only gave me something more to fight in my mind so it was just as well I didn’t have to see her any longer.

To the average person, this experience might not seem that bad, but I’m sure those with eating disorders can understand how difficult it would be to have a professional saying the exact opposite of what you need to hear. If I hadn’t been ready to recover from the eating disorder, I could have easily used this experience as an excuse to not even try to recover at that point. Honestly, it was difficult to fight against her comments that replayed in my mind since they only served to feed the eating disorder voice. Still, by that time I was ready to fight, and I determined to move forward in my recovery regardless of her unprofessional statements. This was a time that I leaned on the Lord for the strength to continue forward.

The dietitian I saw obviously didn’t have specialized training to work with eating disorder sufferers. That doesn’t mean that all dietitians without specialized training are like her. Even those who work in the eating disorder field are not perfect and may say some things that thwart one’s recovery efforts. Still, I’ve met many people online who have had positive experiences with their dietitians. Their dietitians were supportive and compassionate as well as informative. Please don’t let hearing about my experience prevent you from reaching out for help. I share it to convey that even when help isn’t helpful, we can still recover. A negative experience doesn’t have to take the hope of recovery away from us.

Whether it’s a dietitian, counselor, doctor, some other professional, group or program that you may have challenges with, remember that your recovery comes first. If you’ve given someone a chance and that person isn’t helping you, it’s okay to explore other options. Professionals have issues and they make mistakes. They are human. But that doesn’t mean that a negative experience with one of them should be allowed to jeopardize your recovery. Your health and well-being is vitally important. Eating disorder recovery is very hard work. You owe it to yourself to tap into the best resources available to you. If something isn’t working in your best interest, it’s time to make a change. Eating disorders can be fatal so this is not something to take lightly. If necessary, keep trying until you find a good match for you. Your life may depend on it.

By Laurie Glass