Reflecting on Recovery: A look in to this client’s 3 year journey to heal from an eating disorder

When I look at where I was and where I am now, I know there is hope for anyone.

When you’re isolated in the prison of your own eating disorder it may be all to easy to hear thoughts about how you’ll never get better. How it feels completely impossible, and the stories of others who have recovered, absolutely must be – MUST BE – fabricated.

I’m sharing Mallorey’s story with you for this very purpose – to give clients, as well as nutrition therapists, a glimpse in to the reality of the struggles so often faced, and the reality of recovery.

Mallorey was someone I worked with for a long period of time and it was an honor to be a part of her journey. Now, after diligently pursuing and fighting for her own life, free of an eating disorder, she is a therapist helping others [chills and tears welling here]. It’s a message like this, that gets me to my core, and reminds me, as the nutritionist, that patience, persistence and the right relationships will get you to recovery.

Q and A with Sumner (RD) and Mallorey (past client):

S: For someone who doesn’t know if they have an eating disorder (ED) or not, signs and symptoms can be confusing – sometimes leading them to believe they don’t actually have a problem because they don’t meet the “criteria”. Can you briefly explain to us what your ED looked like? Did your disease fall into any of the main types of clinical eating disorders?

M: “My eating disorder’s presentation went through cycles. At times I was in restrictive phases, others times I was binging and compensating, and times I was just binging. Due to criteria requiring 3 months of symptoms to be considered Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder, most of the time I had a sub clinical eating disorder, which isn’t any less dangerous. I also struggled with exercise addiction.”

S: How long did you suffer with your ED before seeking treatment?

M: “12 years. It began as I was entering high school and experiencing the bodily changes of puberty. I didn’t know that my behaviors were an eating disorder until I was in my 20’s.”

S: Beginning to end, about how long would you say your ED treatment took before you reached a state of recovery?

M: “3 years of consistent treatment.”

S: Was it difficult to stick with treatment? What’s the hardest part about dealing with the time it can take to really feel a difference within yourself?

M: “Absolutely! The hardest part was that the emotions didn’t change. I had to change my relationship to my emotions, and shift my perspective to give them less power. Not only was it difficult to put in the time and energy, but it was frustrating to be kind and compassionate to myself as I waited for the shift. What I learned later was that the being gentle with myself and the time it takes was some of the biggest work towards recovery.”

S: What advice or inspiration do you want to say to someone who is thinking of stopping treatment due to treatment “burnout”, or lack of a belief that they will ever actually get better?

M: “The choices are a) still have the eating disorder and all it’s complications without a supportive treatment team b) having the eating disorder with a treatment team who cares, and can help lessen the pain. When you feel hopeless, thats when you need the team the most. Also, tell your team so they can help modify treatment to what feels doable. No one deserves to do this work alone.”

The choices are a) still have the eating disorder and all it’s complications without a supportive treatment team b) having the eating disorder with a treatment team who cares, and can help lessen the pain.

S: We all know treatment can be expensive, and insurance doesn’t always cover the cost. In your opinion do you think psychotherapy and nutrition support from a registered dietitian are both essential and worth the cost?

M: “Yes! I’m so glad I didn’t wait until I could afford help. I had to make my life my priority. You can also ask providers if they have a sliding scale. At one point in treatment a provider gave me a month grace period to find a job, and then worked out a payment plan with me so I wouldn’t miss out on treatment at a critical time.”

S: How many ED treatment providers did you have to go through before finding your “team”? Any tips for someone who is just starting to look for treatment?

M: “I went through 4 or 5 providers before I found my treatment team. This is totally normal! At one point an MD refused to give me a physical that another treatment team member requested. I got a recommendation from my team and got a new doctor ASAP. My advice is trust your intuition. You know when you feel a connection to a provider, and when it feels forced.”

S: Did you suffer from any digestive health or hormonal concerns due to your eating disorder? (Constipation, loss of your period, obstruction, food intolerances, nutrient deficiencies, etc?)

M: “My eating disorder caused constipation, bloating, mood swings, severe menstrual cycles, and hypothyroidism. An ill informed doctor advised food restrictions to cure the above. Thanks to treatment, I now have no food restrictions, rarely have digestive concerns, my mood is significantly more stable, my menstrual cycle is normal, and my thyroid is in the normal and healthy range!”

S: You now work as a therapist helping treat people with eating disorders. What do you think is important for to say to someone who still has an active eating disorder and wants to go in to the field of treating eating disorders?

M: “Be patient with yourself. Pour all that passion into your own recovery, for now. Your recovery, told or untold, will greatly impact your care for patients, and how they impact you. Also, tell your treatment team! They helped me prepare and determine when I was ready to enter into the field.”

S: What do you feel is the best, or the two best ways your life has changed as a result of healing from your eating disorder?

M: “One of the best gifts of recovery is the freedom to go out, explore, and enjoy life. I used to RSVP to events, but then isolate at home due to constipation, bloating, body image issues, binging before, fear of binging there, or the event scheduled eating time differed from the rigid schedule I had set for myself. It was miserable. Now, I love going to events and just being present to the experience. I feel confident in myself and it impacts my relationships in the best ways.”

 S: And lastly, what does it feel like to answer these questions for a blog post on recovery :

M: “It feels astonishing to re-walk the journey it took me to get here. It’s sad to remember the ways I used to treat myself, and the helplessness I felt towards the disorder. When I look at where I was and where I am now, I know there is hope for anyone. Not just hope to stop eating disordered behaviors, but hope for an enjoyable and fulfilling life.”

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