My experience with refeeding

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Most people who i’ve come across believe that recovery from an eating disorder is solely based on eating normally and becoming a  healthy weight again. That’s in a damn fairytale world, it would be wonderful if that’s how it went — that all it took was to eat and be fine again.

Since eating disorders are mental illnesses, the mental and compulsive side to them make recovery difficult but in this post, I’m going to talk predominately about the physical side to it all.

When I was in the hospital last week I was experiencing re-feeding  and it was a lot more confronting in reality than I had predicted.  My stomach had shrunk from the minimal food I had been consuming before I was admitted and thus, it wasn’t used to so much of a surplus of food (6 meals a day) and I would have a tight feeling in my abdomen, alongside bloating and even a bout of constipation which would then be followed by constant bowel movements once it all started working again.

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I really hated how it made me feel but while in there, I know I needed to do it in order to survive and also get out of there.

On the mental side of it all, I had to deal with a lot of guilt. I was feeling everything I ate, the calories growing on me, I felt myself becoming massive the more I looked in the mirror – as if it was instant. I gained hardly anything yet I felt as if I had become a whale.

Being frank, it made me want to rip myself apart. Some nights I fantasised about escaping to a liquor store and getting drunk to cope. I still get the same overwhelming guilt when I eat ANYTHING. I’m yet to learn how to cope with it.

Despite how I felt emotionally and physically with my brief experience, I am aware that refeeding is a major and crucial part to recovery and even surviving with an eating disorder. I know one day it’ll be worth the distress as one day I’ll be able to live a fulfilling life to some extent.

Reflecting on my admission

In Cairns, there is not a specific eating disorder unit so many people with eating disorders end up staying in either a random medical ward or the mental health ward.

Eating disorders are very complex.  It is incredibly easy for staff to accidentally trigger or hurt someone who is afflicted with an eating disorder because words are often misinterpreted and I know from my experience that when I am struggling with anorexia I read into everything that people say and I cling onto triggering comments. They really do have a negative effect on me, often for days as I will focus and focus on them.

I don’t believe the flippant comments that some staff have made towards me and my eating disorder have been intentional or to cause me harm or upset, it is simply due to their lack of understanding but when I am very unwell it is hard to take it like that. Telling someone with anorexia that some people have it more severe is not helpful. It made me feel like I wasn’t in need of medical care and didn’t need to gain weight. There have been many comments around weight, food which have been triggering and made my admission even more tough.

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I was careful of what I said around staff because often what they said back to me made me feel worse, one even said they felt fat too.

Now I won’t get too started on the whole meal plan business as I will rant for days. Ultimately, refeeding is a really really hard journey, physically my body getting used to food again wasn’t at all pleasant, I would get full quickly, my stomach would ache and too much information but it would also give me uncomfortable bowel movements as my intestines got shocked by the surplus of food I was ingesting.

Mentally, I was obsessively thinking about the next dish or snack on my meal plan that I had to eat (and when I did eat I felt like I was binging). Being on a medical ward and not an eating disorder ward meant that food delivery wasn’t at all carried out in a consistent manner. Snacks were sometimes forgotten (on one day I had to substitute night snack with a packet of malteasers) or very late and staff hardly supervised me or checked my plate afterwards when they were meant to.

I’m not saying that the care was poor whatsoever, they were lovely,  the issue is that they had little to no adequate understanding of what anorexia is, how it manifests, how tough it is to eat and how treatment needed to be carried out.

As my psychiatrist pointed out, food was and is my medicine, it should not have been forgotten. When snacks were forgotten that fed my eating disorder even more and made me feel stressed and like I had failed.

I think if all staff not just on my ward  but all wards had eating disorder training it help people like me to feel less upset, more understood and more inclined to try and get better. Knowing a lot more about how my disorder operates than the staff meant that I could manipulate my situation to continue to be unhealthy. I also believe it would be beneficial to the staff to be trained because then they would feel  capable of what they are doing and would acknowledge when they are saying the right things or the wrong things.

This would ensure they were delivering a good standard of care rather than trying to haphazardly help treat a disorder they don’t understand.