I remember the day I finally admitted to myself that I had an eating disorder. Despite the monumental evidence I’d chosen to ignore up to this point, it wasn't until I caught a glimpse of the lanugo* growing across my cheekbones and down my jawline to jolt me out of the pits of my denial to a place of forced acceptance. I call this my “Oh, crap” moment- AKA the moment I could no longer deny, avoid, or minimize my way out of the fact that I had anorexia.
(*Lanugo is fine, fuzz-like hair that can grow on the body and is a sign of severe malnutrition).
Perhaps you find yourself in a similar boat, fresh off the discovery (or admittance) of your own eating disorder. If you’re anything like me, your first frantic thought after “Oh, crap,” and “Will this weird hair on my face ever go away?” was: “What the HECK do I do now?”
First, I want to acknowledge you’re in a crisis moment. You may be scared- panicked even. I want to speak to the part of you that’s afraid and let it know it’s going to be okay. You aren’t alone. You aren’t too far gone. There is help and you can find answers. Not only that, but your fear makes sense. This moment is one you can keep in your back pocket to remind yourself on the day- and it will come- your eating disorder works its charm and tries to convince you keeping it around isn’t such a bad idea after all. Remembering this moment can help motivate you to turn the disordered voice down and stick with the path of recovered living.
Now, to why you’re really here…
First order of business, reach out to your doctor and let them know what’s going on. If you aren’t sure you meet the full criteria or want help with how to describe the symptoms you might be experiencing, check out this screening tool from the National Eating Disorder Association for some guidance: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening-tool. The reason a trip to the doctor is the necessary first step has to do with medical stabilization. Your doctor will want to check on your heart rate and other vitals, monitor your overall functioning, and work with you to determine the appropriate level/type of care. Eating disorders are risky and tricky conditions that require a unique type of treatment. They may recommend anything from outpatient treatment between a doctor, dietician and therapist who specialize in treating eating disorders, to intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, or residential care.
I imagine a lot of these concepts may be unfamiliar to you, but I want to again encourage you not to panic. For more on the differences between the levels of care, check out the link below:
Also available on NEDA’s website is the phone number for their “Helpline”, which can help you access live support, information on treatment options, and other resources for you and your loved ones. NEDA also offers a live-chat option, which allows you to instant message with a trained Helpline volunteer.
From there, it is about trusting your team, leaning into the process as best you can, and above all, having grace and compassion for yourself along the way.
Makenna Clements is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #111159.