Let’s Stuff ‘Em! – Why This New Method of Eating Disorder Treatment is Disordered Itself

The new worst place for eating disorder treatment.
The new worst place for eating disorder treatment.

If any of you guys have been trapped in an eating disorder treatment center, you know how the meal plans work. Basically, you come in and the staff stuff you with about 1,200 calories worth of food. With each passing 24 hours, the staff slowly increases the energy content of your meal plan by about 100kcal per day until the diet is incredibly rich in calories. Now for anorexics who are used to eating a diet that consists of a freakishly low amount of calories, this “treatment center diet” seems like some sort of ghastly feast. In reality though, this diet is quite low in calories. Actually, I am almost positive most healthy folks would be FAMISHED if they went on this diet.

The reason why treatment centers start off their new patients on this tiny diet is because the centers are trying to prevent a dreaded complication that occurs when feeding malnourished individuals  – refeeding syndrome. This life-threatening medical condition causes dangerous fluctuations in a starved individual’s fluids and electrolytes, which can ultimately result in acute heart failure and death. By starting anorexic patients on a low-calorie diet and slowly increasing their caloric intake, it is believed that you are giving the body time to adjust to its new dietary regime. Thus, sparing the patient from becoming refeeding syndrome’s next victim.

Recently though, this orthodox method of nutrition therapy is under scrutiny by medical professionals at UCSF (University of California – San Francisco) Benioff Children’s Hospital.  They are claiming that patients suffering from anorexia nervosa should be started off on a more energy dense diet (starting off at 1,800kcal and increasing the diet by 120kcal per day) in order to achieve shorter periods of hospitalization and to meet the heightened caloric requirements of anorexic individuals.

So the folks at UCSF conducted a study. They got a hold of 56 adolescents who were admitted to the hospital for anorexia nervosa between the years of 2002 and 2012. The group of adolescents that were admitted in 2008 and beyond were started on the higher calorie diet while adolescents admitted before 2008 were started on the more traditional, lower calorie version of nutrition therapy. The results of the study showed that the teens who were fed the more energy-rich diet gained weight at nearly double the rate and got discharged from the hospital almost a week sooner than the group who was prescribed a lower calorie diet.  An added bonus was the fact that the high-calorie patients also didn’t have any increased risk of refeeding syndrome.

So of course now the folks at UCSF are treating their anorexic patients on a high-cal diet plan because of this study revealing a more “successful” treatment method . . .

And I can’t describe in words how sorry I feel for each and every one of those poor anorexia sufferers who are under UCSF’s care.

You see, all the study focused on was the rate of weight gain in patients, as if weight was the cure-all for anorexics.  Believe me, if the antidote for anorexia nervosa was packing on pounds, then I would have been healthy (both emotionally and physically) a hell of a long time ago!

When I was really sick, I cannot even describe in words how terrifying it was to eat a treatment center’s “huge” meal. Now I know my meal plan for the first day contain just 900 calories, but for a girl who was surviving off of 100 calories per day, it seemed enormous.  With every bite I was forced to take , my ED shouted in my mind, reminding me how fat this meal would make me become. The thought of gaining even a single ounce caused me a huge amount of anguish, so I cannot even imagine how distressed the UCSF eating disorder patients are when they are forced to experience the horrors of accelerated weight-gain.  Plus I can’t stop wondering how these patients feel when they go back home and find out their “sick” pants are so tight  they can’t even get them above their knees! Think of how triggering that would be! I don’t know about you, but that would send me right into a full-blown relapse!

In my opinion this study should be thrown into a fire and burned.  More doctors than ever before are just focusing on weight and forgetting that anorexia nervosa is a PSYCHOLOGICAL DISORDER that requires INTENSIVE PSYCHOLOGICAL TREATMENT. By focusing on the root cause of the disorder  and treating its psychological implications, the patient will be able to eventually master the ability to properly nourish themselves.  I really do believe that if this was the treatment I received, my life would be so different right now.

Not different for the worst, but different for the better.


3 thoughts on “Let’s Stuff ‘Em! – Why This New Method of Eating Disorder Treatment is Disordered Itself

  1. Can;t tell you how much I agree with your point. I know that the stuffing programme is what lies ahead for me… in a matter of weeks. Hard to describe how miserable its already making me feel.

    1. I am so sorry to hear that! I feel so bad for you and I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. What treatment center are you going to? Do you think you can find another one that maybe uses a different program?

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