Aside from teaching driver’s education or being a stray dog wrangler for the Human Society, I can imagine that being a dietitian and working with eating disorder patients must be one of the most stressful and demanding jobs. Ever. Sure, talking to people about food all day may seem like loads of fun for some, but try coercing a malnourished, defiant teenager to have a glass of milk with her lunch, only to be met with screaming, crying, yelling, and (possibly) threats of bodily harm. All over one tall glass of milk.
Thankfully I never verbally or physically threatened my dietitian (or myself for that matter) when faced with having to eat a double scoop ice cream sundae or an additional serving of meat loaf because my weight was down. I was always
a pretty compliant patient, most likely because God had given me an internal feeling of freedom and faith, so I felt relief and joy at the prospect of having to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast. I had been starved for so long that giving myself permission to enjoy meals with family and friends again felt like a little slice of heaven.
God’s faith has been at the core of my recovery, but full health cannot be achieved without a great support system, and the professionals I saw were just that. Interestingly enough, considering all of the years I’ve known the members of my treatment team, I still vividly remember the first day I met my nutritionist. After that initial appointment I had upon returning home from college, my doctor referred me to a special trio of professionals that specialized in recovery from eating disorders. My pediatrician warned me about “Kailey”, the dietitian he wanted me to see, but even with his forewarnings (and they were positive, mind you), I never expected Kailey to be as fiery and passionate about eating disorder recovery as she portrayed on that fateful summer morning.
I had a mid-morning appointment, right about snack time, and given the breakfast of cereal I had three hours earlier, my stomach was making obscene noises by the time our family stepped into her office. The space emitted an auburn hue, probably because of the orange-yellow painted walls, and I recall thinking she should throw some leaves in the corner and put a pumpkin near the door, and THEN it would feel like autumn, not sweltering hot like the beginning of June.
“HELLO there, you must be Lauren!” Kailey boomed as she stepped into the waiting room to face my parents and I. I was perched surreptitiously on the edge of a cushioned sofa, back rigid, fingers already cold from the air-conditioning. My parents automatically stood up with hands extended, and I almost laughed. Kailey towered over my father, and at almost six feet tall, she eclipsed my dad’s small frame and most definitely loomed over my five foot high mother. Intimidating in deed. As I eased myself up off the seat and held my hand out, I realized how warm and enveloping her shake was. Veins criss-crossed around my bony wrists and the backs of my hands, whereas Kailey’s were a smooth almond cookie hue. Although her large stature would lead even the strongest of men to shrink back in trepidation and cautiousness, I wasn’t in fear of her. Wait, let me correct that. My rational mind wasn’t scared–the eating disorder part of my brain, however, was shaking in its’ boots. Yes, even with God’s peace and prayer, the enemy was trying to find a loophole, a small entryway to worm back into my mind. That’s the interesting thing about freedom. After a wonderful prayer session with my mom, I had discovered what it felt like to have the shackles removed from my thoughts. Romans 12:12 says to be to be diligent in prayer, and just like any kind of relationship where communication is key for it to prosper and flourish, I needed to continue to seek His face daily. Hourly. Whenever I felt over-the-moon with joy or deep in the depths of despair. The relapse rate for eating disorder recovery is tremendously high, and I can only assume that part of the reason why is because patients and supporters see a physical weight gain, but fail to acknowledge that the mental, emotional, and spiritual person needs to be completely whole as well–and one key component in reaching that aim is consistently rejoicing in the pounds gained and food eaten and asking God for help when the eating disorder voice wants one to go for a ten mile run or only eat a bowl of cereal all day.
I never used to like to say that I was in treatment for an eating disorder because most people automatically assumed that I restricted food or exercised for hours on end because I was vain and just wanted to be “skinny.” Yes, I did care about my appearance to a degree, but doesn’t everyone? Don’t we all brush our teeth, buy nice clothes, cut our hair, and clip our nails so that we are seen as responsible and respectable individuals that can function in society? What the majority of the population doesn’t understand is that anorexia, bulimia, or any type of eating disorder for that matter is an actual mental illness, and patients dealing with it are not solely focused on appearance. How humbling it is to say that I have issues with my brain chemistry, and seeing along legged model on a magazine cover would not only lead me to compare my thicker thighs to hers, but to then become obsessed with that fact and strategize ways to whittle away said leg fat.
So when I actually met Kailey for the first time, the healthy part of me was ecstatic because NOW I could finally find hope and recovery from an eating disorder voice that would have tormented me for eating a cookie or berated me for missing a day running. The part of my brain, however, that was fixated on the miles I logged and the calories I ate knew that soon it would no longer have control over my actions, and like a toddler throwing a tantrum because he couldn’t get its’ way, it wanted to toss itself on the ground and have a screaming meltdown.
But the power of God is awesome. I felt that urge to run, the urge to turn right around and bolt out the door, but instead I just prayed.
“Lord Jesus, help me. Help me please. I’m incredibly frightened, but I trust that the person before me, Kailey, was put into my life by you to help me. Please help me.”
And wouldn’t you know, the apprehension, the turning in my gut, the anxiousness in my legs, they all vanished in an instant. And so the four of us–mom, dad, dietitian and me–began treatment.
“Well, why are you here?”
Such a loaded question, one with so many possible answers. Because I’m scared to eat. Because I can’t make myself stop running. Because I may die soon if I don’t gain weight. Because I don’t know how to deal with all the hard issues in my life.
“Um, I need to gain weight.”
“Well, that’s true. You do. And you will. And probably, you won’t like it very much. But first, let me tell you about my approach to recover.”
Boom. Right off the bat, Kailey confirmed to me the truth I knew I’d have to hear: I would gain weight, I may not like it, but it was inevitable. For the next thirty minutes or so Kailey discussed why weight restoration was important and some of the effects of malnourishment on the body. I was briefly entertained by her words, but my stomach was REALLY starting to gurgle by that point, and that gnawing pit of hunger was eating a larger and larger hole in my gut.
“Right. So, now here is the meal plan.”
Meal plan?! My ears perked up with that phrase. I had been on a meal plan too, but I highly doubted Kailey’s diet would be anything like mine.
“These are the requirements for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Plus there will be snacks in between, so we’re aiming for close to 3000 calories a day.”
Here is where I know God’s faithfulness and freedom are true. Give me that meal plan a month ago, I would have balked at the notion of eating that much. When Kailey handed me that sheet with the pre-approved foods listed on it, I was like a child at Christmas. What?! I’d be able to eat Ben and Jerry’s and it was ok? I could have hamburgers and fries everyday if I wanted?
“What do you think?” Kailey asked after my eyes glazed over the list of peanut butter crackers and Pop-tarts that constituted appropriate afternoon snacks.
“It looks fine!” I said enthusiastically. Maybe it was a bit too enthusiastic because I saw Kailey raise her eye at my grin.
“Ok, well, there’s a food group tonight I expect you to be at. So get lunch. From the list. Get a snack. From the list. And we’ll see you at Hungry Lion at 5:30.”
Hungry Lion. It was serendipitous that the first experience I’d have with group treatment would be at a restaurant named after what I felt most of the day (hungry) and an animal that represented the God I knew that would quench said hunger.
“Thank you, thank you.” My mother was beside herself with gratitude, a tear starting to form at the corner of her eye.
Group. Food group. I smiled a true honest to goodness smile of relief and joy as my parents and I stood to leave. Besides the fact that I had a great sense of physical hunger–by that point my stomach was ready to eat itself I was so starved–I was ready. Like a runner, cued in the blocks waiting for the gun to go off, I was ready to start running this race, this road to recovery