I’m currently 5 months pregnant and have had some frustrating experiences with the midwives I see, even though I told them from the first appointment that I have a history of an eating disorder. But they are hyper-focused on food and have suggested fad diets. The last midwife I saw asked me to walk her through a typical day of my diet, starting with breakfast. I told her I was not comfortable with that (I’m very protective of the recovery I worked so hard to achieve!) and I don’t want to find myself triggered by focusing too much on diet. She said she wanted to be sensitive to that, but then proceeded to be anything but and asked me questions like, “Do you eat fast food?” with a judgmental tone.
Unfortunately, it’s common for people with eating disorders to have run-ins like this with the medical community. I’ve heard some doosey stories from clients, let me tell you, including the patronizing but typical, “Just eat,” or “Just stop it” responses when they finally have the courage to disclose their disorder.
So it’s completely understandable that for many people with an eating disorder, going to the doctor is a very anxiety-provoking experience. Sometimes, it can even be downright triggering. Here are some tips to help it be a more positive experience, as well as what to do when your doctor just doesn’t get it.
- Tell your doctor about your eating disorder or history of an eating disorder. I know, I know… I just talked about how awful doctors’ responses can be. And it is, admittedly, just a really uncomfortable conversation to have. But they don’t have an opportunity to respond well if they aren’t told, and they will hopefully show some sensitivity (there really are some who do!). Also, some meds are not recommended for people with certain eating disorders because of possible adverse reactions like seizures so your doctor needs to know your entire medical history when prescribing things for you.
- Opt to do a blind weight or don’t be weighed at all. You can close your eyes or stand backwards on the scale while they weigh you so you don’t see your weight. Or you can just not be weighed at all. You might get some pushback, but it is your right to refuse.
- Communicate with your doctor about what triggers you. Whether it’s avoiding being weighed or declining to talk about a fad diet that’s being suggested, you can draw boundaries by saying you don’t feel comfortable discussing those things. IMPORTANT: I’m not suggesting automatically shutting your doctor down about these topics, because ideally, they should be a part of the team helping you be healthy. And you need to be sure your motivation for avoiding these topics is pro-recovery and not to hide or maintain your eating behaviors. But some doctors just aren’t sensitive or informed enough about eating disorders to be helpful. So if you’re realizing your doctor falls into that category, be your own advocate and remember that you, not the doctor, are in charge of your care.
- Find a new doctor if necessary. If advocating for yourself and offering your doctor some education about eating disorders isn’t working (or you don’t want to even put that effort in), don’t be afraid to part ways with your doctor. We as patients are consumers, which means if we’re not comfortable with the service and treatment we’re receiving, we have every right to take our business elsewhere and shouldn’t feel guilty about that at all.
A big part of eating disorder recovery is learning to find your voice, so these tips are not easy to do. But they are an opportunity to practice using your voice, taking charge of your life, and realizing you are capable. You can do it.
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.