Eating Disorders Recovery Conference
online conference transcript
Bob M is the moderator.
Bob M: Good evening. I want to welcome everyone to our EATING DISORDERS RECOVERY conference and to the Concerned Counseling website. I'm Bob McMillan, the moderator. Our topic tonight is EATING DISORDERS RECOVERY. Our two guests are "normal" people, not authors of a book, or some celebrity type. I bring that up because both have "recovered" from their eating disorders, but the ways they did it were very different. Our first guest is Linda. Linda is 29 years old. Our second guest is Debbie, who is 34. I'm going to have each give us a little background on themselves and how their disorder started. And then move quickly into their recovery stories. Because I'm anticipating a large crowd, I'm going to limit the questions to 1 per person. That way, everyone gets a chance. Linda, I'd like to start with you telling us a little about yourself, which eating disorder you had, how it started, etc.
Linda: Well, let's see. I am the youngest and only daughter of two doctors. I went to private schools (girls' schools) and took ballet. I think all of that helped "foster" my eating disorder. I "dabbled" a little in anorexia, but found the restricting very difficult, especially because I needed some energy to dance. I struggled for about seven years with bulimia. It wasn't until I moved out of my house (dysfunctional family - bad relationships) and took a real good look at my life, that I chose recovery. I think I knew that what I was doing was unhealthy and dangerous, and that I couldn't live a long and prosperous life that way. But I think I also knew that I couldn't recover while I still lived with my parents. By the time recovery began, around age 21, I knew that it was what I wanted, needed and that I was ready for it. There were very little resources or knowledge in the medical community. There were no support groups, and only one clinic with four beds. I read books voraciously...books about eating disorders, about recovery, about spirituality...and aside from that, for the first year, all I did was see an MD. When I first told him what was wrong, he said," I'm the doctor. I make the diagnosis." Of course, I knew better about the whole thing than he did. I did join a support group about a year later. I had stopped completely bingeing and purging after one and a half years.
Bob M: At the worst point Linda, how bad was it for you? How much were you bingeing? What was your medical condition like?
Linda: I actually prefer not to mention numbers, even in a forum like this. Binge eating/purging took different forms, and it was very often, many times per day and I was taking laxatives too. I was very lucky. Even today, there is no visible damage to my teeth, digestive tract, etc. At the worst point, when my weight was at the lowest, I was scared. I knew I couldn't maintain that and live. And with my parents being doctors, I had to be creative, trying to keep everything secret.
Bob M: Were you ever hospitalized Linda?
Linda: No. There was a time when my body "shut down" as I call it. I was tube fed at home for two or three days (a "bonus" to having parents as doctors). I couldn't keep anything down even if I tried. My body just voided itself on its own.
Bob M: If you're just coming into the room. Welcome. Our topic tonight is EATING DISORDERS RECOVERY. Linda (age 29) and Debbie (age 34) are our guests tonight. Both recovered from their eating disorder, but used different processes to do that. For tonight, since we have two guests, please type either Linda or Debbie at the front of your question or comment, so we know who it's directed to. Since the audience is so large tonight, I want to ask everyone to only send one question. We are going to try and get to as many as possible. Debbie, tell us a little about yourself please?
Debbie: My story. I'm an executive assistant to a very demanding boss. My eating disorder, anorexia and bulimia (later), started when I was 16. Like many girls that age, I just wanted to be wanted...by boys, of course. And I thought the only way that would happen is if I looked pretty, translated "thin". I don't usually bring up weights, but to put this in context, I was 5'4", 130 pds. Over the course of 3 years, when I was 19, I was down to 103 and thinking that wasn't enough. I was keeping my eating disorder to myself and one day when I was in college, a couple of girls in the dorm were in the bathroom and I heard one throwing up. And that's when I learned about bulimia. As you can imagine, or maybe for some of you, luckily you can't, my life was a wreck. My electrolytes went way down, I was hardly eating, and whatever I ate, I threw up. So my entire body one day just gave out.
Bob M: and this was over what period of time Debbie?
Debbie: I was 20 when I had my first hospitalization.
Bob M: We have a few questions and comments from the audience I want to get to. Then I want to hear your recovery stories.
jelor: Linda, did you ever slide back to your old ways, interrupting recovery? for how long? is that okay?
Linda: Yes. It did take me over a year-and-a-half before I completely stopped binge eating and purging. But it went from numerous times daily to once a week, to once a month, to finally-never. I felt it was a part of recovery, that it took me "xx" years to learn those negative behaviors, that it would take me awhile to learn positive coping skills. I tried to make sure that I didn't rip myself apart for it. I forgave myself. It was ok.
Jenna: Linda and Debbie, what truly *awakened* you to the fact that you suffered from an Eating Disorder? Do you two feel that you truly have to hit bottom before you can accept it?
Debbie: I was at the very bottom. When you can hardly walk because you are so weak, you're whole body aches, your stomach cramps and it feels like someone is ripping your gut from the inside and squeezing it, you don't need someone to tell you something is wrong. It was absolutely horrible. I'll tell you a little about my recovery, quickly, because it relates to this. I was hospitalized for the first time when I was around 20 because my medical condition was so bad. I was in the hospital for 2 weeks and finally able to go home. My parents then sent me to a treatment center in Pennsylvania. I was there for 2 months. And I thought I'd finally gotten control of this. I went home and not 7 months later, I was back doing the same things again. I tell you this, because for some of us with eating disorders, it is very difficult to break the grasp. Between that time, the time I went home, and the age of 28, I was in a treatment center a total of 5 times. The longest time for 6 months.
Bob M: Linda. What about you, did you hit bottom before you were able to get control?
Linda: For me, I hit my own rock bottom. Even below 90 lbs, I knew something was wrong. I gained a few more and stayed there for a few years. At some point, I looked at myself and thought 'what kind of life is this?' I could never please anyone. It didn't really matter to them anyways. I couldn't see myself at 50, buying laxatives or vomiting. I couldn't live like that. But I don't think one has to get that low, to that point of self-hatred, before one can begin recovery.
Bob M: Here are some more audience questions:
symba: Linda I need to know what got you out of this???? Please tell me!!!!
Linda: Symba, when I began eating disorder recovery, for me there was no other choice. I didn't look back. I took back my power from the scale, from the calories, and from everyone else and took ownership of it. I made peace with myself, with food, and with everything else that was once "bad" to me.
Bob M: Can you please describe your recovery process?
Linda: At the time, I had a wonderful partner. He was very supportive. He didn't know about my eating disorder. The day I told him was the first night I went to bed without purging or weighing myself in years. I searched and searched for support and didn't find any "professional" help. I told all of my closest friends, which gave me so much strength and courage. I had a book that was my "bible". I carried it with me for months. It was very inspirational. I was in a eating disorder support group more than a year after I began recovery and went into therapy about a year after that.
Bob M: I invited Linda and Debbie here tonight because they represent opposite ends of the recovery spectrum. Fortunately, Linda was able to recover without a treatment center...but not without help altogether. She was able to use the support from friends and her support group to help her through. I'm saving this question for Debbie.
tennis me: This is the same generic "gently described" type of recovery. What was the struggle like? I struggle to get better and no one understands how hard each minute can be.
Debbie: I do tennis me.
Linda: Me too tennis me.
Debbie: So you don't want me to pull any punches. When I went to the hospital for my medical condition, I was very scared. Imagine being 19 and thinking you're gonna die...that it's too late...and that all the times you said you were going to stop and get help, but didn't. Now it's payback time. I didn't have any friends who had an eating disorder and especially back then, people with eating disorders didn't go around telling anyone. It was really something to be ashamed of. When I went to the treatment center the first time, I can tell you I was very scared. I felt sick, disgusted by myself. I also didn't know what to expect. Was this going to be like a jail? An insane asylum for crazy people?
Bob M: Tell us what it was like inside, Debbie?
Debbie: Well, they watch over you all the time. They want to make sure that you actually eat and then also to make sure you don't throw up. It's not that it's a bad thing because if they didn't do that, you would just continue on with your eating disorder. The people there, the doctors, nurses, nutritionists and everyone were very supportive. I guess the only thing I can compare it to is like going through withdrawal, so to speak. And doing it cold turkey. Although to be honest, I've never had an addiction problem. I'm just trying to make an analogy. But as time went on, it got better. I was able to sort my problems out, define them better and deal with them in a more constructive way. I learned how to use various tools, like journals and support groups, to assist me in my recovery.
Linda: Yes. It is hard to let go. Sorry to interrupt...just had to throw that in.
Debbie: But it was very difficult at first. And for many of us with eating disorders, maybe one trip to the treatment center will not be enough.
terter: Do you think that an eating disorder is ever really cured or is it with us forever?
Linda: Yes, I believe it can be cured. I don't believe it is like an addiction, although I know some others who do feel that way. I think that an eating disorder is part of a huge continuum of disordered eating patterns, and that eating disordered behaviors are negative coping skills. I think we are taught to scrutinize ourselves and our bodies...to find fault, and to work against the body. I think it does take time to end the behaviors, and to learn to think differently and it gets harder as the messages in the media get more prolific. But I do think it is possible to recover 100%.
Versus: Debbie, can you tell me if your hair fell out at all and if so what on earth did you do for it. Is eating less than 1200 calories going to "not" help?
Debbie: Yes! at one point my hair was very thin and wispy and was falling out. That's because my body wasn't getting the vitamins and minerals it needed. To be honest, there's really nothing you can do but start getting the food and minerals and vitamins you need. And keep in mind, I'm not a dr., but I've got a lot of experience. :)
Jenshouse: Debbie and Linda--I am 19. I am recovering from many different things from childhood as well as trying to get over this eating disorder. I am often depressed or angry, mad when in these states. It is the worst for eating. I can never seem to force myself to eat. I don't want to lose weight. I just feel that I can't eat. That I shouldn't eat. That I don't deserve it. How did you get yourself to eat something?
Linda: Whew.. that's a tough one! For me, I KNEW that my body needed the food. I KNEW I needed food to function, and that if I didn't eat I was no good to anyone, especially myself, in the end. For me, I learned to do it slowly. And I learned to enjoy what I ate; to TASTE it...something I hadn't really done in years. Debbie, what about you?
Debbie: I never felt like I didn't deserve to take care of myself. I started my eating disorder because I was unhappy with my shape and thought I'd be more attractive with the more weight I lost. Jen, I think everyone deserves a good life. If you have low self-esteem, which I found out I did, you need to get help and sort the things out in your life.
Linda: Good point, Debbie.
Debbie: And I noticed you said, you didn't "deserve it", that's a big clue that your thinking isn't the way it should be. And I want to say here, that even now, after 10 years of therapy and eating disorder treatment centers, there are still times when I have to remind myself that I am a worthy person. That I am likeable. That I'm smart and can make good decisions in my life. I think Linda wants to add to this.
Linda: Thanks Debbie. I think Debbie has raised a very good point. We ALL deserve a good and healthy life. No one is ever more deserving than another. But as I said earlier, it is a daily struggle to take care of one's self and look at the positives. As Debbie said, to know that we are all worthy. I think that there are a lot of negative messages out there, that help contribute to low self-esteem.
AlphaDog: I'm so scared. I have been through this many times. I am not doing well now. How do I stop starving myself?
Debbie: Alpha, it is a very difficult process. And for many of us, it takes a long time and a lot of work. I wish I could give you the magic cure, but for each person it can be different and take something different to get over it, to get a handle on it. I would hope that you are getting help, seeing an eating disorders' specialist. And also Linda's way, of going to a support group. It really works and it helps. I think we all need support. Getting over something like this on our own would be very tough.
bean2: Linda, what was the name of the book that you used?
Linda: "Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery" by Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn. It truly helped me save my life.
resom: Debbie and Linda -- I'm 21 years old and a former anorexic. I still get really nervous about calories. How do I eat out when I'm terrified of eating too many calories? I want to have a life again.
Linda: Well, as I said earlier, I don't look at numbers. That includes calories. It is important to know that the body needs lots (lots!!) of calories just to function. I gave up counting calories. That's part of how I 'got a life' again. Don't be afraid of food. And don't make it "good" or "bad". It is simply food. Enjoy it because we need it. Give yourself permission to do that, resom. Debbie?
Debbie: I don't weigh myself. I have one mirror in the bathroom which I use in the morning and evening when I clean up. At first, I always kept a book with what foods I needed to eat to make my "calorie count". But then as time went on, I was able to develop more "normal" eating patterns, but I still knew what I needed to stay healthy. Also, if you are having trouble going out, try and get your support group to go with you. That's what we did. Went out as a group. And all supported each other. Sounds silly, but it works.
Shy: Debbie, when a person is recovering, or starts the recovery process, is it important to have a counselor or therapist for help?
Debbie: I think so. I couldn't do it on my own. I needed someone to be there for me and to encourage me and soften the blows. It's very tough Shy. And I know Linda did it on her own, but as she said, she really had support too...right Linda?
Linda: That's right Debbie. I had great friends. Without them, I couldn't have done it alone. And as for therapy, I think it is a necessary step in recovery. There are definitely issues for everyone that go much deeper than food, weight and calories. Having others around, kind of "arms" you with strength.
Debbie: I know that all of us are pretty ashamed of our eating disorders and what they do to us. And that's why we don't tell anyone. But I'm here to say, it's important to tell people who really care about you. Their help and support is very important and will go a long way in helping with your recovery.
Linda: Yes, and their reactions are often not what you expect.
Debbie: And if you can't get to a therapist yourself, your parents or friends may be able to help with money or encouragement.
Mosegaard: Debbie, did you get medication while you recovered? If yes, are you still on medication today? If no, how did you get off it?
Debbie: Yes, I was on at first, then Prozac later. It helped with controlling my bulimia. But as you can imagine, I was pretty depressed too. But the more therapy I had and the more I was able to work through my problems ("issues" for you professionals out there :), the more I was able to lower my med dosages and finally came off it. But if you have a chemical imbalance, you may not be able to come off. But again, I think that's something for you and your doc to talk about. And one more thing, I think medication without therapy is a rip-off. Medication doesn't get rid of your problems, it just masks the depression for awhile. But even with medications, you still have the problems and they are out there lurking, affecting everything you do. So you can't really "recover" until you resolve your problems.
Jamie: Linda, is three years too long to spend in recovery? Does that mean I am not serious?
Linda: No. I am certainly not one too judge either. As Debbie mentioned earlier, it is different for all people. I think that as long as you are working on recovery and trying to find positives, then that's good. Remember, it's about baby steps, and recovery will definitely not happen overnight. I think it also depends on what issues you may be dealing with, Jamie.
Bob M: If you're just joining us, welcome to the Concerned Counseling website and our conference. Our topic tonight is EATING DISORDERS RECOVERY. Linda (age 29) and Debbie (age 34) are our guests tonight. Both recovered from their eating disorder, but used different processes to do that. Linda utilized support groups and self-help books and had close friends help her. Debbie went to professional therapists and was in various treatment centers a total of 5 times in about 7 years. I think Debbie wants to add to Linda's comments.
Debbie: As youngsters, one of things we learn about medicine is, you go to the doctor, he fixes you, and you are better. What's it going to take-- a few days, two weeks, a couple of months, before I'm back on track? In real life, it's not like that. Some things, like cancer, or maybe an eating disorder, take longer, a lot longer. And there will be good days and bad ones. I think if you can think of eating disorder treatment as a continuum, as Linda said, that's good. And be realistic. You are getting help, you may have relapses, but you are expecting that and you know they have to be dealt with. And I think it's important to tell your friends or those in the support group ahead of time, "if you see I'm going to relapse or I'm having a hard time, please be there for me, don't let me slip too far down into that dark hole." And soon, the relapses are spread apart over longer periods and then eventually you are able to cope on your own. And Linda has another thing to say.
Linda: We've talked about 'relapses'. I think it is very important to repeat that recovery is not going to happen overnight. You may take five steps forward, and go backwards two steps. But then you go forward again. Be proud of those little steps forward, because it counts! And every step backward makes you stronger, gives you strength for the next time you may feel yourself going backwards.
Bob M: Here are some comments about medications:
PCB: I have been in recovery for 11 years. It is a steady process of ups and downs. I have also been on medication during this time due to a chemical imbalance. I was resistant at first, but now I know that I will need my meds for life. I have a quality of life that never existed before. The meds have stabilized my moods so that I can look at reality and face the issues in my life. I am calmer and more rational in my thinking.
Agoen: My doctor gave me a medication. She thought it would be a quick cure but it wasn't. It was hard enough for me to tell her about my eating disorder and I feel in some way she let me down. So I'm afraid to ask for help again.
caricojr: I think meds are necessary in some cases. You can't deal with problems rationally if you are extremely depressed.
froggle08: I don't think medication is a rip-off. For some people who don't need it it is, but for some people it can really help them a lot.
Bob M: Debbie, since you made the comment, how about addressing that.
Debbie: I'm sorry, maybe I didn't make myself clear. I'm not saying medications are a rip-off. What I meant was, if you are taking medication, it's also important to get therapy to help with dealing with your problems. I think that one without the other isn't good. And a lot of doctors today just hand out meds and say good luck. That's what I don't like. But that's my personal opinion.
Linda: I'd like to add something. I think that there is a "trend" today where the medical profession prescribes anti-depressants for eating disorders. I think that this can be dangerous. I agree that there are some cases where medications are needed, but I think it is wrong to automatically prescribe them. I think that if one is at low weight and has been depriving the body of important nutrients, then someone will be cranky and depressed. I also have heard of "natural" anti-depressants.
Bob M: I want to add here, that it is important to discuss these issues with your doctor, so you can make informed decisions. These next questions are all related:
Vortle: What is the best way to be able to tell people that you have an eating disorder? I told one friend who also has eating disorder and she's mad at me for not wanting to get better bad enough. We don't talk anymore. I can't get the courage to tell my family.
ack: What about the people in your life. I have had a terrible time trying to help my boyfriend with this. He just doesn't understand and I don't think he wants to. Is it necessary for your significant other to understand to have a healthy relationship?
Symba: How do I get my husband to understand this eating disorder? He doesn't want to. I try to talk to him and I feel I'm getting blown off.
Bob M: Linda, how were you able to confide in your boyfriend the first time?
Linda: For me, it was hard, and yet it was easy. He was someone that I loved and respected. I knew that our relationship depended on that, and that he loved me no matter what. I don't think all situations are like that. I am very lucky. I know that there are support groups out there for family members and friends of people who struggle with eating disorders. I think that your partner has to be supportive. Understanding ED is hard, and may not happen. I think you both have to work at it on some level from the same or similar view, or the relationship may not withstand it.
Debbie: Now that I've been through a lot and I've been able to sort of look back, like I said earlier, I think it's difficult for our friends and family. They think "go to the doctor, get better". It's that simple. It isn't. That's why eating disorders support groups are so important. You are around people who do understand and can encourage you. And Linda's right, it can put a lot of tension in a relationship. I had several end "before their time", so to speak. All you can say is "look I need your help and support". And at the treatment center, when they get family therapy going, the therapist tells the parents that this will be very stressful on them and there's no shame if they need support. And usually they do, depending on how difficult things are.
sizeone: I think it goes without saying that family members are just scared and do not know what to do with someone they think is great and in reality, that person hates themselves.
caricojr: A very good book that saved my boyfriend's and mine relationship was "Surviving an Eating Disorder : New Perspectives and Strategies for Family and Friends".
Linda: I'd like to say something about family. I think there are some cases (like mine) where families were not involved in the recovery process. I know some people have huge issues with family. For me, my doctor parents, it was not an option. They knew, but never talked about it. It was scandalous. And that is scary, and it is a shame. I know some people are afraid of disclosing to their families, for whatever reason. And that's ok. You don't have to. If you are in a treatment center, then obviously they know. To this day, I have not talked about it with my parents. I have made peace with that and let go of the fact that they could never understand.
blubberpot: I feel the same way about my parents. They think my eating disorder is a thing in the past, but what they don't know, is that I have lost another 11 pounds.
Rod: Is it wise to attempt to have a relationship while in treatment for an eating disorder, or should we wait until we are better?
Linda: For me, I was in a relationship already, for about two years. It added a new dimension to our relationship. I think that you should do what you feels right. I think that if you want to start a relationship, that you should be honest with that person. Debbie, what do you think?
Debbie: That's a trick question. I found out it was easier for me to deal with my problems when I didn't have a significant person, i.e. boyfriend, in my life. It just got to be too difficult, trying to handle a relationship and it's normal demands and expectations, and deal with my eating disorder. But I'm sure for others, it can be a very supportive and helpful thing. I agree with Linda though, I think you have to be honest with the person and do it up front. Don't wait until you are 3 months into the relationship and say "SURPRISE!!", by the way, did I tell you....because I promise, most won't be happily surprised. That's from experience, by the way.
Monmas: My husband seems to leave the healing to me and my therapist. He never gets involved with my eating. This makes me angry at him sometimes. It makes me think he doesn't care. How can I get him to be supportive, yet not tell me how to eat?
Linda: Tell him what you need. We need to do that in all areas of our relationships. We NEED support, we need space, we need a hug. Sometimes we need to ask for it. Maybe he is scared and confused about it too?
Monmas: Yes, I think he is. I try to tell him how I feel, but he doesn't understand the whole picture, so he doesn't want to say the wrong thing. He loves me very much though.
Bob M: It may be he doesn't know what to do. If he hasn't participated in group therapy or some sessions with you, he may not understand his role in your recovery.
Debbie: It's hard to tell monmas. I would talk with him and tell him what you need. And then see what happens. Make it non-threatening though. Don't say "you never help me." Try, I need your help, could you please do this for me." I hope that helps some.
gutterpunkchic: I am going to be going to my first therapy session on Friday. I am just starting to realize I need help, but I am afraid it will take me a long time to recover. What do I do if therapy doesn't work for me?
Linda: gpc, there are many different kinds of therapy out there, and many, many different therapists. It is important not to give up, even if it feels exhausting. Remember that you are a consumer of the health care system, and you are entitled to get the help you need and want. If you don't like your therapist, find another. Also, as we've said, support groups are very helpful, and are very different than therapy. Debbie?
Debbie: I think it's important to remember gutterpunkchic that it may take awhile. Maybe you will "grow" as time goes along and you will be more receptive to therapy or able to deal with things in a better way. But give it time. It won't happen "just like that". And like Linda said, what works for one, may not for another. So you may have to find another therapist or method of treatment. But give it time.
Bob M: We had over 100 people come tonight. I appreciate everyone being here and to Linda and Debbie thank you for sharing your stories and staying late to answer questions.
Linda: Thanks Bob.
Bob M: I hope that everyone got something positive from tonight's conference and that you feel like there are many ways to recovery. And that you need to find what works for you. It also helps when you have others who care around you.
Debbie: Thank you Bob for inviting me tonight. For everyone out there, I was at death's door. I'm not a rocket scientist and I don't think I was the beneficiary of a miracle. It was a lot of hard work and I cried a lot and thought many times about giving up. I hope you have the strength and energy to do it. It's worth it in the end. That I can tell you.
Linda: Yes. Thanks Bob. And Thanks Debbie. Recovery is hard. And it is worth it.
Bob M: Some audience thank you's:
Monmas: Something I have learned--don't be afraid about how long it will take to recover. Take it one day at a time. There is no schedule to follow on recovery. It will be at your own pace. Thank you Linda and Debbie.
Rod: Thank you for your openness and willingness to use that to be so helpful with your comments. Sometimes the end can be the beginning.
Siteline: Thanks for the insights.
Versus: THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Bob M: Good Night everyone.
Last Updated: 06 April 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD