Why Going To The Doctor Can Be Harmful For Eating Disorder Survivors

When someone is in recovery from an eating disorder, the doctor's office should be a safe space. Yet, going to the doctor can actually be triggering for eating disorder survivors.
As Gina Susanna, who is in recovery from anorexia, pointed out in a Twitter thread, doctors often aren't well-trained in understanding eating disorders or what could be triggering for survivors.
She details a recent doctor's visit in which she told her doctor that she didn't want to know her weight — but he told her anyway.
Although Susanna told Refinery29 that this specific instance was unique — it was a new doctor who didn't know her history, he was older and therefore less likely to have had training on eating disorders, and there was just a lot of confusion on his part — she says that triggering moments like this aren't rare for those who have or are in recovery for an eating disorder.
That's clear from the responses to her post. Other people who have eating disorders have been sharing their own stories of triggering moments at the doctor's office.
The way doctors talk to patients can be especially harmful for those who don't fit the stereotypically thin and white picture of someone who has an eating disorder, Susanna says. Many people she knows have been told they aren't skinny enough to have an eating disorder.
"To take a patient who tells you that they have an eating disorder and then make a comment about their weight indicating that they aren't THIN ENOUGH to be considered as having one? It's damaging," Susanna says.
Although not all doctors speak to their patients this way, medical professionals' focus on weight and size is a well-known problem — one that often deters plus size people and people who have eating disorders from going to the doctor at all.
"There needs to be more education in the medical field of how to talk to patients presenting ED symptoms, and just how to speak about bodies in general in a way that doesn't fuel disordered thoughts or contribute to diet culture and fat shaming," Susanna says.
She has a few tips for those who might find themselves in a similar situation.
1. Don't be afraid to say "I have or have had an eating disorder" — and to elaborate if the doctor seems confused or doesn't believe you.
2. Tell them you don't want to know how much you weigh and if they fight you, tell them it's a part of your recovery. (You actually have the right not to be weighed at all.)
3. If you don't feel comfortable with your doctor and have the ability to find a new one, search for one who understands.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.
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