Eating Disorders are not about weight and food, they are coping mechanisms in which weight and food are a symptom. This is why Eating Disorder services (especially in the UK) need a revolution.
Almost all of the clients that I work with have accessed some sort of treatment for their Eating Disorder before I meet them. They often report basically being treated like a piece a meat; weighed, and labelled. Their place (i.e. the type of treatment to which they can gain access) is determined by a number on the scale. In turn, they have assumed that this reflects their actual worth as a human being – that they only deserve treatment if, by the process of weighing and labelling, they get the diagnosis of ‘Severe Anorexia Nervosa’.
Rarely has anyone thought to ask them about how they feel, about their inner world, or about what it is from which their Eating Disorder is protecting them. Eating Disorders are therefore the only mental health illness for which your access to treatment is determined largely by a physical symptom. You don’t hear of people going to their GP’s with depression only for the doctor to inform you that you can only access therapy if you are underweight, or some other arbitrary physical factor such as if their hair is blonde.
I’m not sure how we ended up here – because almost everyone who knows even just a little about these illnesses will tell you, they are MENTAL HEALTH illnesses. Therefore, the primary mode of treatment would ideally be MENTAL HEALTH care, right?
Don’t get me wrong, Eating Disorders (all of them!!) come with high physical risk, and therefore physical health care does need to be part of the treatment. However, if we allow it to be the only treatment, then we are letting people down, putting them at risk, and their relapse is basically inevitable. Treating those with Eating Disorders like this is basically the same as not providing a type 1 diabetic with insulin, but regularly monitoring them for poor blood flow and gladly amputating toes as ‘needed’. The insulin, of course, may have prevented this entirely. I appreciate this might sound like a drastic comparison, but it isn’t, Eating Disorders kill.
I guess, in part, this is why I’m passionate about this subject. I see the need for such drastic changes in the way we offer care, and I hope that I can be a small part of that. Perhaps a few years from now I won’t be a sole practitioner – instead I’ll be in a position to offer an alternative holistic treatment option where the whole person is cared for, from diagnosis to recovery.