I sat in my her office watching my dietitian review my meal log for the week. This was my third time in intensive treatment for my eating disorder. I’d vacillated between diagnoses as frequently as I had pants sizes. And I’d worked with numerous counselors, psychiatrists, and dietitians who specialized in eating disorders. Finally I was recovering for myself, and finding my way. I was letting go of the eating disorder that had been with me for over twenty years. And I was trying to find a new way to a life free from the disease that had plagued me. But I was still struggling.
My Dietitian Meant Well…
Gentle and soft-spoken, she was always supportive. She allowed me to guide the direction of our discussions and initially asked me how I envisioned myself as “recovered.” I do not doubt her intentions- I believe she genuinely wanted to help me. The problem was, she often spoke to my eating disorder, and not to me. She heard my fears and concerns of gaining too much weight, of passing my “target weight goal” and of becoming “obese.”
In her attempts to reassure me that this would not happen, she was actually reinforcing diet culture’s message that gaining “too much weight” IS a bad thing. That it is something that needs to be avoided. And something we could control.
By simply GIVING me a target weight- she was reinforcing the lie from diet culture that weight defines health and should be manipulated and controlled.
The Risk of Slips
I sat in silence while she looked over my meal logs, wishing I could read her mind. She was pleased I had gained more weight. Yet, she didn’t know that lately I had been shrinking my serving sizes. Had she had asked about the foods I was choosing, maybe she would realize I was sticking only to “safe” foods. But she didn’t ask. Instead she looked up and said, “Now that you are almost weight restored- your portion sizes are going to look a little smaller. Instead of your food covering your entire plate, you will see more of the plate.”
Wait, what did she just say?
When Your Dietitian Sends a Harmful Message
I wondered if this is what whiplash felt like. All that time in treatment the focus had been on eating MORE. Allowing MORE food in. More variety. Larger portions. Higher weight.
But now, I must have reached the end point, the limit. And it sounded like the rules had just changed.
Pump The Breaks
With her one statement, she told me everything I needed to know about her approach to recovery. The emphasis was on reaching a certain weight and then staying within that range. We didn’t talk about HOW I felt eating the foods I had selected. We didn’t even discuss how I selected the foods I chose. The benchmark to measure my success was my weight. And at that very moment, I realized I could not reach full recovery and freedom from my eating disorder while working with her.
Breaking Up with My Dietitian
At that moment I knew that if I was ever going to recover fully from eating disorder, I had to let go COMPLETELY of trying to control my weight. I understood as long as my recovery was measured by my weight, I was not truly recovering.
I’d tried to recover by maintaining a weight in my “target range”. I was familiar with this “middle” place of recovery- where I was no longer underweight but still living in a prison in my head. Sitting in the silence across from my dietitian, it was clearer to me than ever before. It blew my mind that I came to this realization NOT because she encouraged Health At Every Size or Intuitive Eating. But because she was focused on keeping my weight in the “target range.”
It infuriated me that her focus on my weight perpetuated the distorted thoughts in my head that weight is meant to be controlled. Shouldn’t SHE be the one telling me that the only way to reach real food freedom is to let go of trying to control my weight and to TRUST my body? She was, after all, the professional.
Didn’t she realize I was SO MUCH MORE than my body? That my body did not define my worth as a person? Her job was to help me heal from my eating disorder. Instead of helping me find true freedom from the eating disorder, she was giving me instructions on how to transform my distorted thoughts and behaviors from one obsession to another.
I could spend the rest of my life living in a prison of restriction, obsession, and rigidity all in the name of “recovery” IF my “recovery” is defined by staying within a target goal.
Anger Turned to Action
I did not say much as the appointment ended. When I walked out of that office, I knew I would not be returning. Later I processed the events with my therapist who was pleased with my realizations. She supported my conviction to define my own recovery as being FREE from food rules and the obsessions.
I often wonder why the dietitian was focused on my target weight. Perhaps she did not think I was ready to let go completely of the ed. Maybe she did not believe in Health at Every Size. Or maybe she knew I needed to come to this realization on my own. Mostly likely she was unaware of her own implicit biases because she too is entrenched in diet culture. l’ll never know the answer to these questions, but that is okay. I left my last appointment with the conviction to take charge of my own recovery, and in doing so, I have owned it.
Living a life free from the obsessions of food, body, and weight, I am more present, more joyful, and more connected than I have ever been.
As for that target weight range? Oh, I passed it a year ago. And I haven’t looked back since. I’m too busy living my life to care about weight.