Death by Muffin: Ten lessons from an inpatient eating disorders unit



Although this post is generally about being a patient in an eating disorders (ED) unit, the lessons can also be applied to different aspects of life:

Lesson 1 is about quality of life, lesson 2 and 3 are about patience and having realistic expectations of oneself and others, lesson 4 is about swapping one addiction for another, lesson 5, 6 and 7 are about choice and taking responsibility for your life, lesson 8 is about giving yourself permission to be human, lesson 9 is about knowing when to be selfish and lesson 10 is about learning when to confront difficulties and when to distract oneself from difficulties.

  1. Recovery is a race: Not to determine who recovers quickest but to see who recovers before death carries them away. Death by muffin, jacket potato or cornflakes is unlikely to be seen on an autopsy report. However, death by suicide, organ failure or a heart attack is quite common with eating disorders (EDs). The race to recover is a RACE FOR LIFE (to live and to have a life worth living).
  2. Being in an inpatient unit is unlikely to cure you of an ED:  If it took you 2, 5, 10 years to have a fully developed ED, a 3 or even 6 month stay is unlikely to cure you. An IPU is to an ED patient what a starting block is to an athlete. Even the great Usain Bolt needs a starting block to propel him forwards. He then gets the job done by driving his arms, legs and torso forwards until the end. There is much more work to be done upon leaving an IPU than there is to be done inside an IPU.
  3. Realistic goals and expectations will save you from an achy-breaky heart: I had  2 main goals when I arrived in IPU: desist from disordered behaviours and learn to eat regularly. I met these 2 goals quite quickly. However, the weight target I set myself once in IPU was unrealistic and I have now turned this into a long-term goal. My expectations of professionals were also too high. Human beings and professionals are fallible. I had to set realistic expectations to reduce my disappointment and frustrations.
  4. It is not uncommon to trade one issue in for another: I have always been a sports freak but have taken it to the extreme at times. After giving up running for a year, I have unfortunately found myself obeying the compulsion to run once more. I know this desire to run is born out of the frustrations of being in IPU and also the desire to counter the food regimen. However, I also know that this is something I will continue to address once I have left IPU.
  5. Your recovery, your responsibility: Yes, staff are there to support you to eat, to help you deal with your emotional issues, to encourage you when you are feeling down but ultimately, you are the one with the issue and you will need to be the one to decide mentally to say yes to food, yes to the support, yes to facing the challenges and no to the urge to resort to harmful coping mechanisms.
  6. Being in an inpatient unit will not stop you from engaging in negative behaviours: Restricting, purging, over-exercising, laxative abuse, chewing and spitting, hiding food or any of the other number of disordered behaviours can still continue in IPU. That is why recovery is a choice.
  7. Recovery is a choice: whether you chose IPU or it was forced upon you, there comes a point when you need to make a conscious decision to recover. Tis best to recover for yourself but if something else motivates you in the meantime (a friend or family member or pet) then so be it. Hopefully at some point, you will CHOOSE RECOVERY for you or as the ad says, “because you’re worth it”. 
  8. You are allowed to say “I enjoyed that”: food is something to be enjoyed but the guilt, greed and sadness that can be induced by eating can lead some to deny themselves the ability to enjoy food. Even when food is enjoyed, some prefer not to show this for fear of being viewed as greedy by others. You and I are allowed to enjoy food. No if’s and no butts (pls forgive the play on words).  
  9. Sometimes, it pays to be selfish: If you spend your time focusing more on others than yourself, you’ll likely lose out on the benefits of IPU. You’ll lose the ability to hear and feel what is going on within. Sometimes, it pays to let staff tend to other patients. Sometimes it pays to allow yourself to be the patient rather than the healer. Sometimes it pays to listen to what’s going on in your head than what’s going on in the head of others.
  10. Distraction can become a negative tool: there is a time and place for distraction. At the start of my stay in IPU, distractions were a God-send but at this present moment in my recovery, distraction is more of a hindrance. It stops me from connecting with my emotions and processing my thoughts. Given how long I have spent distracting myself from all sorts of feelings and emotions, I have begun practising the art of ‘feeling’. It’s painful but it’s working out well for me. It’s time for me to address the noise in my head rather than drown it out with more noise.

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