This Ain't My First Rodeo: How Dr. Phil Got Anorexia Wrong

This Ain't My First Rodeo: How Dr. Phil Got Anorexia Wrong

Other people see us as vain. They think we diet to look better than them. Dr. Phil's guests described their daughter Meagan as "evil." The mother wondered aloud if it was a bid for attention.

This makes me angry. Would we describe diabetes as a bid for attention? Heart disease?

When will we acknowledge mental illness as a disease?

Meagan's sister describes her as a "monster."

And all I could think of was my senior year of high school, when probably everyone who loves me thought that of me -- me, who is now recovered and a rational human being who has spent the past fifteen years overcoming anorexia and anxiety disorder that threatened my life and almost killed me. I could've been Meagan. If I hadn't recovered, that could've been me, instead of the me who was me at 26, engaged, happy, recovered.

A girl in my hometown died this year of anorexia, and it hit me really hard. She could've been me. I thank God every day that somehow, some way I was able to see that I was the only one who was creating these rules, creating Yr, and that it might be possible to relax those rules and see what happened. To see how bad life would be if I just gained a little weight.

If you are reading this and you are suffering from anorexia, please e-mail me at ritajarens@gmail.com. I do understand what you are going through.

Here's what happened: I started eating more normally, and I immediately gained 20 pounds. I needed to, but it was terrifying. I spent 11 years as a vegetarian, seven as a vegan, to avoid eating anything with animal fat in it, thinking that would make me fat. I continued to gain weight at a very rapid rate because my metabolism was so messed up. My metabolism didn't correct itself until I got pregnant at age 29.

Pregnancy brought back all my fears about gaining weight without a governor. I was certain I'd continue to gain weight until I weighed 300 pounds. I gained 45 pounds with my daughter despite working out four times a week for 45 minutes each. I ate healthy foods. And still it packed on.

But -- wait for it -- I made myself view it as temporary, and it was temporary. It was. The weight went away. You may gain weight, you may lose it. It's okay. It's okay.

After childbirth, I started exercising again after six weeks. I tried Pilates. I joined Weight Watchers. And it came back off. I found I could eat "normally" for the first time in 15 years without immediately gaining ten pounds. I've been within my BMI and pretty stable for the past seven years since giving birth.

I'm recovered.

Rita arens recovered

Photo by Yvonne Marie. 143 pounds, healthy, 5'6". 


My psychologist tells me only about 20 percent of anorexics make a full recovery. The rest relapse over and over throughout their lives, experience disordered eating or die of complications. I could've died, but I didn't, and I want to spend my life helping other girls and women recover from the grips of anorexia and bulimia.

It is a miracle that I saw my Yr without outside help.

If you want to help your anorexic child, don't tell her she's selfish. Don't tell her she's manipulating your family.

Ask her what it would feel like to live under the same rules as everyone else.

Then ask her why she can't.

Help her understand she's created Yr, and it only exists in her own head. That life is there for her taking, but she's the only one who can seize it. That you love her, but you will watch her die if she doesn't see her constructs as purely her own.

That food isn't poison.

It won't be easy.

When an anorexic starts to recover, the weight gain will be rapid. The metabolism is shot. The body will grab on to the calories. The anorexic needs support through this period. It is beyond painful to go through this weight gain. Think of a heroin addict going through detox. Yep.

It won't last forever. The body will reboot. You must be patient, and this is the most important time. Gaining weight after anorexia is as terrifying as losing a limb. Anorexia is a mental illness -- the physical manifestation is just a symptom of what is going on inside. Only the mind can decide to eat or not to eat.

Treat the mind, and the body will follow.

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