Hurtful actions by professionals

“Did professionals (therapist, doctor, psychologist, dietitian, etc.) do or say anything that was harmful towards recovery from your eating disorder?”

Based on responses to our survey, the following types of comments or actions were perceived as causing harm to someone’s recovery process:

  • Focused on physical state instead of mental struggle, confusing ‘normal weight’ with ‘recovered, judging severity by weight (15%)
  • Inflexibility, biased assumptions, acting as though the patient is always lying or just trying to get attention (14%)
  • Lack of education or skills, practicing outside of their training (12%)
  • Patient was rejected from treatment programs without assistance in finding care elsewhere, or treatment provided was insufficient (not due to insurance or payment issues) (10%)
  • Comments about weight change, revealed weight when patient wasn’t ready (8%)
  • Using force—not meeting the client where they were at, pushing too fast (8%)
  • Negative, sarcastic, patronizing, condescending, or insulting comments (8%)
  • Encouraging weight loss or food restriction behaviors (8%)
  • Didn’t show a sense of urgency in dealing with the patient’s ED (8%)
  • Therapy triggered or exacerbated ED symptoms (7%)
  • Not respecting patient’s privacy, talking about patients with other patients (5%)
  • Comparing the patient with others (5%)
  • Speaking of the patient/ED as ‘hopeless’, expecting failure, speaking of ED as chronic without hope for full recovery (4%)
  • Indifference, avoidance, or lack of monitoring (4%)

Ten percent of patients did not report experiencing any actions or comments from professionals that were hurtful.

Selected actual survey responses

“Judging how “severe” my eating disorder was based on vitals, lab results, and weight, rather than how often I was using symptoms and how depressed/suicidal I was. (mostly heard this from insurance, but “professionals” have been known to do this too,)”

“I went to see two different doctors (pre- hospital) who I told I was not eating and was anxious every time I ate and they both stated how it is not healthy and how I need to eat more- neither discussed an eating disorder. While in the hospital my doctors spent a good 5 minutes with me and just gave me some pills and sent me on my way stating I should see a nutritionist.”

“Pigeon-holeing me into a “diagnosis” of BPD simply because I engage in binge eating/bulimia. Really, any “diagnosis” within the first 30 minutes is, IMO [(in my opinion)], detrimental to treatment.”

“I was not encouraged to involve any of my family members in my treatment. Because none of my family members were involved in my treatment, my family members did not understand what i was going through. When i was discharged from treatment, my family was under the impression that i was “cured” and “back to normal”. My family assumed that because the weight was back on, that my mental state was back to a healthy state as well… the thing was, I still hated myself, hated my body, and was still very depressed. Many of my struggles were left undealt with and are still undealt with to this day.”

“my gp told me repeatedly to “stop being so stupid” and to “just eat”. when I came back from IP when I was fourteen, still underweight and seriously restricting my pediatrician told me I was recovered and that I was like the people who practice caloric restriction for health reasons and to look this “movement” up.”

“My psychologist once said to me “well… you don’t look anorexic”, and a doctor told me not to be stupid and throw my life away, just because I wanted to look like a model. I was told by a professor in eating disorders that I was just overreacting and being an attention seeking kid, and to stop wasting his time because there were people with more important problems than mine.”

“When I was diagnosed with ED-NOS, I simply felt that I had “failed” at anorexia and so I had to “try harder” to lose weight etc.”

“YES. Automatically assuming I was lying because “all people with eating disorders lie” was extremely detrimental. I am not an eating disorder although I struggle with one. When the nurse at my doctor’s office told me I looked really good and I should stop the weight loss now, I burst out crying. My doctor had to explain to her that she couldn’t make comments like that. When I was bulimic and I had a dietitian that basically let me restrict because I was overweight, it reinforced all my feelings that I didn’t deserve to eat and that my body is different and doesn’t need food. She didn’t even do it consciously; weight bias is so ingrained in this society and even though she was TRAINED to work with people struggling with eating disorders, she still maintained her bias.”

“…I did not get along with the dietitian on my team either. She was always telling me how scared she was for me and talking down to me as well. To me, she was a stranger so I felt nothing when she told me that she was scared for me. I really did not appreciate the way she would talk down to me and whisper when she felt that I was going to get upset (which I never did in her office).”

“forcing me to do anything usually made me push in the opposite direction. it wasnt until treatment was in my own hands that i decided to try for a better life.”

“I had a terrible therapist who supposedly specialized in eating disorders. She tried to tell me what foods were healthy, thinking I knew nothing about nutrition. She did not seem to grasp the idea that eating disorders are not about food, but rather the emotion behind the food behaviors.”

“weighed me and then said I didn’t meet criteria for specialist ED treatment (despite meeting full criteria for bulimia diagnosis) and referred me to non-specialist, said I looked well, commented about other people being more ill, implied that bulimia was less severe than anorexia, comments about other ‘more fragile patients’ in IOP from nurses , comments about how those of us with bulimia should be ‘role models’ for the inpatients (all anorexic) , only ever admit anorexics to inpatient who are severely emaciated and no matter how severe the bulimia, never more than daypatient and even that is hard to come by.”

“Group therapy triggered bulimic symptoms”

“I sa[w] a dietitian that had told me if I would go back to church my problems would be solved; I stopped seeing her… I had a doctor once, after I had blacked out in a [specific situation] ask what I thought led to my blacking out and I said I wasn’t sure, after a thousand questions I finally said that it may have been because I was throwing up everything I had eaten- he walked out into the hall, right across from my room, and said to the nurses what I had told him and then ended with- “Duh you think so?!” I have ears.”

See more results from our survey:

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