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Eating Disorder Recovery: An Open Letter About Anorexia Print

It is with tremendous pride that I share with you this heartfelt letter from one of my brave clients about her journey through recovery from anorexia.

An Open Letter
smiling woman with coffee

by Maddie Quinlan

An open letter…to you

If you’re reading this, you know me, even if you don’t see me often. What you may not know (not certainly, at least) is that for the past 6 and a half years, I’ve had an eating disorder. I have anorexia. This is the first time I have typed those words. Even today, nine months after the first time I set foot in my psychologist’s office, freezing, ashamed, and terrified, I still have a difficult time saying those words out loud.

Every year there are Eating Disorder Awareness days, or weeks, or other periods of mental health advocacy. And every year I think to myself, maybe this year. Maybe this year I’ll be out with it, maybe I’ll talk to someone, maybe this year…or maybe next year.

I am learning that part of rebuilding (literally, physically and otherwise) is that I get to choose who I want to be, and how I want to be. Mental health has been something I’ve felt strongly about for a very long time, even before I was struggling with my own. The tragedy is that even with increasing advocacy and education surrounding mental health, eating disorders, while being the deadliest of all mental illnesses, are one of the most underfunded.

There is a 10% chance that my eating disorder kills me. A one in ten chance. I am learning that there’s no way to fix a broken system with silence. There’s no way to help anyone else by keeping secrets. There’s nothing shameful in struggle. There’s nothing wrong with having something wrong.

When I was finally faced with the decision of whether to continue lying to loved ones fearing for my life, or to let go and let in, I refused to be open with more than my immediate family, my doctor, and a few very close friends. Anorexia affects the brain more than one can possibly imagine, and the more you nourish the brain, the more clear it becomes just how bizarre and twisted your belief systems are. I was both astonished and panicked that anyone “outside looking in” would think I had a problem. I was adamant that this issue would be a secret within my tiny circle of support and that I would quietly explore getting some help. This is now funny to me, because the secrecy of this secret was only secret to me. Everyone else (and likely you, reading this, probably nodding) could see it. There truly was very little that was secret about it. Nonetheless, I initially refused outright to be submitted to the Calgary Eating Disorders Program. I practically lost my mind at the word “inpatient”. I didn’t want my name on a list, I didn’t want a diagnosis, I didn’t want to admit I was out of control, I didn’t want to be sick.

But I was sick. I was really, really sick.

It would take a lot of time to explain or list the broken pieces that my eating disorder has created for me. But there are some pieces I know have been collateral damage, and I am sorry.

I’m sorry that I didn’t text you back
I’m sorry that I didn’t call
I’m sorry that I didn’t come to your party
That I forgot your milestone; a graduation, a big exam, an anniversary, a birthday
That I didn’t remember that you changed jobs, maybe twice
That you felt awkward when I ordered half a grapefruit at brunch
That I didn’t come visit
That I cancelled our plans
That I gently refused any social activity that took place in a restaurant
That I threatened to cut you out of my life at the mention of my needing help
That I didn’t follow through
That I left early
That I blamed work for why I hadn’t been around
That we couldn’t hang out for more than a few hours because it would fall over a mealtime
That I missed our meeting
That I wouldn’t make a champagne toast, because champagne has calories
That I lied
That I lied again
That I couldn’t feel enough to feel the way you felt because I couldn’t feel at all
That I didn’t confide in you
That I got angry with you when you suggested I eat
That I got angry with you when you asked me a question
That I got angry with you
That I refused the food you so generously prepared to accommodate my “dietary needs”
That I didn’t see sooner how poisonous we were to each other
That you never got to take me on a real date
That I put so much space between us that I drove you out of my life
That I blamed our drifting apart solely on you
That I got so cold I had to go home
That I never let you get close enough to see
That I triggered you
That I feigned appreciation at the food you gave me, but then threw out
That I made you sick with worry
That I said I ate before I came
That I didn’t know how to ask for help
That my sparkle got duller and duller
That I couldn’t show my struggle
That you had to hold my secret and that it weighed so much
That I broke your heart
That I broke your heart
That I broke your heart
 
I’ve never known support like I’ve experience in the last 9 months, because I’ve never let myself ask for it. And many people don’t know the impact they have. So thank you.
 
Thank you for being honest with me
Thank you for believing I could take this on
Thank you for sharing your own struggle and your own secrets
For being gentle with me
For trying to understand something that is impossible to understand
For understanding what I needed
For sharing how scared you were
For sharing how scared you are
For recognizing that you couldn’t be there
For thinking about me, even if you didn’t know what to do
For listening to me
For politely ignoring the dramatic weight loss
For celebrating my victories, no matter how big or small
For being endlessly patient
For tolerating my veiled way of talking around my recovery
For telling me I am beautiful
For stepping up to the plate to keep the wheels turning
For loving me
For giving me everything I need and more without question
For telling me how proud you are
For inspiring me, even when you don’t know it
For saving my life
For saving my life
For saving my life

If you’re still reading, thank you. Truly. It took months for me to find words for this. And it’s important to me that you know: I’m still me. Nothing about our relationship changes, and we never even need to talk about this if you don’t want to. But if you do want to talk, about this or about you or someone you love or something you want to know, no matter who you are, I am here for that too.

If you know at least 10 people, you know someone who struggles with a disordered relationship with food or their body. Maybe it’s something you struggle with, too. Or maybe you struggle with something else entirely. Think about sharing this, because if nothing else, a little less silence might help. I know it helps me.

Infinite and heart-exploding love,

Maddie Quinlan

 

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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