There I was, holding my toddler on an exam table so that he could have a routine blood test drawn, when one nurse said to the other “see if you can hold that scrawny arm down!”
I am admittedly sensitive, as I work daily to fight against diet culture, body image struggles, and eating disorders. I know the harm that these words can cause to my clients. My son was one and all he cared about was getting that blood test over with, snuggling me, and getting his sucker.
However, I have heard so many stories in the eating disorder treatment world. A doctor makes a comment about a adolescent’s size being “a little larger than average” and these exact words become what their eating disorder will use to make them restrict food until they are in a battle for their life. The client whose healthcare professional says “Just avoid all food that is [fill in the blank with some arbitrary food rule]” and this client spends years punishing herself every time she “indulges” in rule-breaking foods. The client who ends up on Weight Watchers before they hit puberty, because a doctor said the 90th percentile is “too big” even though they were born in the 90th percentile and their body was growing, as all adolescent bodies do. The doctor that sees a client out of treatment, hears about their daily sweet snack on their meal plan and says “you get to eat ice-cream everyday? That doesn’t sound so bad, I wish I could do that!” (Newsflash! YOU CAN) but doesn’t know that snack is the hardest thing the client does each and every day.
I could go on and on and on. Sadly.
This stuff happens so often, that it’s an often discussed topic in the eating disorder recovery world. Eating disorder treatment professionals swap referrals for eating-disorder-friendly medical and mental health professionals like a hot commodity, because they are rare.
Doctor’s. Therapists. Dietitians. People I know are well meaning and want to help. But, we don’t always know the power of our words. And, sometimes, we bring our own junk into a room.
If you are a person struggling with an eating disorder, body image, or just a life of constant dieting and food struggles, here are some things I want you to know before you see a health care professional:
- Medical and Mental Health Care Professionals are not all knowing gods. Research changes. Schools of thought change. We have our own personal stuff to work through. We are capable of accidentally (and even intentionally, saddest of all) doing and saying things that are harmful and hurtful.
- You have Power. I am not kidding. It is perfectly okay to stand up for yourself if something doesn’t seem right. You are your biggest advocate. When my clients confront me for something I have done that was unintentionally hurtful, I am always grateful. Sure it hurts my feelings that I might have responded inappropriately but since I know I am capable of messing up (see item number one), I always remember that this is about the client and their needs, so I am grateful they feel comfortable to say something.
- Many health care professionals prescribe weight loss without realizing that it is totally ineffective and harmful. Dieting and weight loss has just been accepted for so long. However, the research challenges this notion. Some questions I always ask health care professionals: –Please show me a study where that amount of weight loss was achieved and worked, in the long term to sustain greater health. -What would you prescribe or suggest for a thin person who has the same issue I am seeing you for?
- Your healthcare professional may have not been trained (or well trained) in working with eating disorders/disordered eating. There is no shame in that. It would be impossible to specialize in everything. There are many therapeutic issues that I would not feel comfortable working with because I have not received appropriate training. I am always impressed and encouraged when other professionals recognize their limitations, answer “I don’t know” to a question, and have an openness and curiosity about learning more. If your practitioner is looking for a great guide to get started here is a download from Academy for Eating Disorders.
- You Don’t have to see this doctor, therapists, or practitioner. There are many options available. If you are looking for a guide to professionals that follow the Health at Every Size model here is a searchable list of all kinds of professionals.
I am sorry if you have felt harmed in the very place you were seeking healing. I want to empower you to be kind to your body and find the right professional for you. There are so many great resources out there on what to look for.
If you are in eating disorder recovery, it is important to have the right treatment team. However, even if you don’t struggle with an Eating Disorder I think it is important to have a professional that encourages you on your Body Kindness journey!