The first time my daughter saw a dietitian who was supposed to specialize in eating disorders, I went to the appointment with her. My daughter was 15 years-old, and very apprehensive about starting treatment. We waited outside the dietitian’s door together, with me trying to distract her and calm her down before the appointment.
When the door to the dietitian’s office opened and the person who was inside came out, my daughter and I both stood up to enter the room. We walked in together. The dietitian looked up, saw both of us, pointed her finger at me, and said, “!אמא, החוצה”, which translates to “Mother, out!”, and which was seriously rude by any standard. Before I could react, my daughter insisted, “I want her here, she’s my mother”, but the dietitian repeated her command, finger pointing and all. Like the polite American that I am (or maybe was?), I respected her authority and left the room. I took my seat once again outside the door, where I sat for the next 45 minutes listening to my daughter sobbing inside the room and wondering in what universe that appointment could possibly be considered productive. Certainly not in mine.
At the end of the appointment, I was invited back into the room. With complete disregard for my distraught daughter, the dietitian handed me the food plan that she wrote out and said, “She is responsible for her own eating.”
I looked at her like she just landed from Mars. For G-d’s sake, we were in a freaking eating disorder clinic! Obviously, if my daughter could eat on her own, we wouldn’t be there, right?? When I started to question her on that point, she told me again that eating the food that was written on that paper was my daughter’s responsibility. There were foods on there that I knew my daughter wouldn’t touch under the best of circumstances, being the picky eater that she was even before her eating disorder, but the dietitian wouldn’t listen to me, and I was curtly dismissed.
I’m sure you can probably guess what happened after that. My daughter continued to lose weight at an alarming rate, careening to the bottom of the eating disorder abyss, where she remained for a very long time. I would have sacrificed myself in a heartbeat if I somehow could have broken her fall, but it doesn’t work that way. No matter how hard I tried to grab on to her, to slow her down at the very least, she seemed to slip through my grip. A few times I almost fell into that abyss with her. She is my child, and where she goes, I go. But despite my willingness to accompany her through the darkness, this was her journey alone. That’s just how it is. All that I could do was to shine the light, for when she was ready to head toward it.
I would give anything to go back to that moment in time in the dietitian’s office and to do it all again, choose a different path, but there are no second chances here, and that’s why I am so passionate about eating disorder advocacy to improve (and ideally regulate) eating disorder treatment here in Israel. Because my experience of receiving treatment that conforms to the most basic definition of malpractice (that day in the dietitian’s office is just one of our many negative experiences) is a cautionary tale for all of the other parents out there whose daughters and sons deserve far better than what my own daughter got.
I don’t blame myself for my docility that day in the dietitian’s office, or for following the “give it time” directives issued throughout the first year of my daughter’s treatment, first at a clinic and then in a hospital unit. I sincerely didn’t know any better then, but I know better now. Experience is a bitch.
Time is the enemy. Sticking with ineffectual treatment causes damage. Because while you are “giving it time”, the eating disorder is gaining power and strength, making recovery more and more elusive.
Even under the best of circumstances, eating disorders are notoriously hard to treat, which is why it is so important to follow the evidence and use treatments with proven efficacy. Knowing that the statistics are against full recovery, why not increase the odds by using treatment methods that work and ditching those that don’t? Wouldn’t it be more fulfilling for clinicians to see more of their patients recover?
I am no longer the mother who will wait outside a closed door against my daughter’s wishes, listening to her cry. That mother has left the building. My place is inside the room, beside my daughter. Support is critical for eating disorder recovery. My daughter is lucky to have a loving family, but others are not, and they have to find what my friend June refers to as a “family of choice”. Eating disorders try to pull those in their clutches away from the people who love them, much like an abusive boyfriend. Strengthening the bonds and connections of love and support go a long way toward helping someone recover, which is why it’s so important to include parents and other caregivers in treatment.
I knew that I found the right treatment for my daughter when I was able to finally sleep at night, after well over a year of my mind racing through worst case scenarios all night long. For the most part, our experiences since then have been largely positive.
I would still like to think that I am a polite American, but if anyone ever again points at me and says, “Mother, out!”, or any variation on that theme, to the detriment of my child, then all bets are off.