In my last post I talked about how, in my experience, treatment actually tends to make me feel worse before I experience any benefit. I think a lot of people can relate to this. Your stomach hurts from eating, you get gassy, you feel nauseated. You feel tired. In addition to the physical discomfort, you have anxiety over treatment and weight gain. You have to talk about things you might not want to talk about. Often, you are away from home (residential or inpatient), or at least spending a good deal of time away from “normal” life. As this post on the blog GreyThinking says, “it feels like treatment is the problem, not the eating disorder.”
Of course, you wouldn’t be in treatment in the first place if it wasn’t for the eating disorder. But, that is one of the very hard things about eating disorder treatment – it all feels very backwards. My therapist and I have been spending a lot of time talking about this lately, and something that has been helping me get through the rough days is to think of eating disorder treatment like chemotherapy. A friend of mine’s stepfather was recently diagnosed with cancer, and before starting treatment he did not feel that sick. However, the chemo and radiation caused him to feel horrible – it burned his throat, he felt tired a lot, and he was nauseated. Now before I go on, I don’t want anyone to get offended by my comparison of cancer treatment to eating disorder treatment. I am not trying to say they are the same with regards to the physical and emotional toll. I am simply trying to say that in a similar manner to chemotherapy, eating disorder treatment comes with its own set of side effects. It isn’t like taking cold medicine. Right now eating is not making me feel any better, and I often feel a lot more sick, physically and emotionally, than I did before starting treatment. But that doesn’t mean the treatment isn’t working in the broader sense of recovery.
Moreover, just like with cancer, the risk of stopping treatment early greatly increases the risk of recurrence. If you were to leave behind a little bit of a cancerous tumor, the actual tumor itself probably wouldn’t cause much damage. However, the reason you don’t want to leave behind some of it because there is the risk it could metastasize. In other words, leaving a little behind brings with it the huge risk that it could spread and grow bigger. It’s the same with wanting to maintain my weight at the low end of healthy. While that might be ok for the time being, research shows that staying at a lower weight increases the likelihood of obsession and renewed weight loss. My desire to stay at the low end of a healthy range might soon start to spread to the point where I want to eat less, I want to weigh less etc. It’s the eating disorder version of metastasizing.