I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel as I finish my last 2 weeks of my dietetic internship! I can’t believe how fast the time went already! In my last leg of the internship, my outpatient rotation, I am in a facility with eating disorder patients (both inpatient and outpatient). The hospital also has a couple other wings with patients suffering from mood disorders (adolescents and adults), which I also get to work with occasionally for consults.
This is my first time working so closely with eating disorders (ED) and it was a bit overwhelming the first couple of days. I never realized how much time the RD spends counseling and how important it is. The patients see the RD 1x/week for a session; however, the RD ends up seeing and talking to some of them almost every day. The RD will walk onto the unit and patients start calling to talk to her about their weight, their meal plan, etc. It takes a lot of reassuring and challenging of eating disorder thoughts. Some of the patients will become so upset if you need to up their meal plan 200 calories due to not gaining weight or weight-loss that it is hard to calm them down. You have to be patient and understanding when giving news that they will not take lightly.
Some of the best lines I learned in counseling were, “How do you feel about what I said,” “Where do you think your weight is,” (They find out their weight 1x/week and that phrase is asked prior to them knowing) and after a patient says something so absurd “Reality check does eating an orange really make you fat.” You can’t be afraid to challenge an ED thought, you just need to know how to phrase it towards each person.
One of my biggest fears with ED is saying the wrong thing. I’m always thinking that I will say something that will trigger one of the them or make them upset. I learned that besides practicing, the key things you need to do are: be empathic, don’t downplay how they feel, always give praise when you can (for finishing a meal, etc), let the session be guided by the patient, ask “why they feel that way” when they have something to say about their body image or weight, and ask as much open-ended questions as you can.
There are also a ton of meetings every day with MDs, RNs, social workers, etc. The care team needs to really collaborate on the treatment plan, not only to aid the patient in recovery, but to provide a united front. Some of the patients are very sneaky and will lie to your face about purging or hiding food. It is really helpful to have team meetings to see if what the patient says, or doesn’t say, is consistent (they tend to slip up when they lie). Seeing the food rituals some of the patients have is crazy. Some of them tend to be very OCD (they have to have even numbers of foods or eat in a certain manner) and you can definitely tell when you observe their meal times.
Some of the comments/situations I heard this week that will show you how distorted some of the thoughts ED patients have are:
1. I am morbidly obese and I am concerned about breaking the chair. (Patient is underweight).
2. RD: “If your BMI is in that range, you will be considered emaciated”. Patient: “That’s okay with me.”
3. Scales don’t apply to me. (Patient stated after saying her family is genetically modified to need less food than everyone else),
4. Since I got my menstrual cycle, I know I gained too much weight. (In case your not familiar, patients with eating disorders tend to lose their cycle. Some patients have not had 1 in over 5 years).
5. I’m concerned with getting diabetes from eating all this food. (1600 calorie diet that is).
6. I don’t need to eat to live.
7. I don’t know why I am here. I am fine. I just purge after each meal and when I drink water.
If you every work with eating disorder patients, be prepared to hear comments like the ones above. Some of the ones I hear every day are centered on feeling fat or bloated and being disgusted with themselves. It seems silly to think about a 100lb person being fat; however, these patients truly believe that the distorted thoughts they have are in fact real. It definitely takes a lot of patience and empathy to work with EDs every day. While I love being in this rotation and learning so much so quickly, I can say that this is not the field of nutrition I would want to work in at all 🙂