Eating Disorder Treatment: Leaving Before You’re Ready

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By Kiernan O’Dell

For many of us who have been in eating disorder treatment, the first few days are often a blur. You are whisked from one appointment to the next, either exhausted or full of anxious energy. You meet so many new faces and mistake staff for clients and vice versa.

That said, I can say that I almost always remember my last day in treatment. I remember how I left. I’ve left hopeful. I’ve left angry. I’ve left terrified. I’ve left determined to lose the weight “they made me gain.” I’ve left with the best and the worst of intentions. I’ve left because of insurance. I’ve left because of work. I’ve left AMA.  I’ve left with excuses. To bring you up to speed, I am currently sitting in treatment so it’s not difficult for me to admit: I left too early.

I know some of you may be sitting at home while you read this, struggling. Perhaps you have not been to treatment (and I encourage you to seek treatment, even if it seems impossible or scary!), but if you have and you are still engaging in your eating disorder, it may be true that you, too, left treatment before you were ready.

The unfortunate thing is that leaving treatment often depends on two factors: 1) Insurance coverage and 2) Our own ideas of readiness. While there is amazing progress being made in Congress to combat the limited coverage available for eating disorder treatment, unfortunately and often infuriatingly, I personally know and have been one of those people who have been sent home long before they were ready. They left because their insurance provider thought they had made enough progress or not enough. Because they had limitations on their policy or on time available for treatment at a certain level. Because their case manager didn’t understand how to fight insurance or simply because they had been in treatment before that year (or that decade).

It’s a fight we need to keep fighting but often, there feels like there is little we can do about it.

Source: Flickr
Source: Flickr

I have also seen too many people leave because they are, like I was, angry. Unwilling, Terrified. Uncomfortable. They had, emotionally, come undone. They thought they’d be ok. To turn this to myself, I will tell you that I have been in eating disorder treatment on and off for the past 15 years. In so many ways when I left all of those treatments, I was not ready to leave. I usually either needed more time or more surrender. I alternately felt misunderstood or way too understood. Fear often drove my decision to leave abruptly, if it was my decision, and fear also ruled my world if I left after completing a program.

Now I think that fear is healthy when leaving eating disorder treatment. On one hand, I usually knew I was not ready to be in the world; not ready enough to continue the work outpatient. There were times I was confident that I could continue implementing what I had gained in treatment and was not afraid, but to be completely honest, I was willing to use the knowledge while still holding onto back pocket behaviors that kept me sick. I kept a scale at home, just in case. I didn’t throw out those jeans. You know, those jeans. My meal plan became optional and while I really wanted to be in recovery, I was not ready to take the steps.

If this is where you are, I understand. Sometimes I was simply not ready to be in recovery. Sometimes I really did need more time in treatment and did not get it because of financial reasons. Yet here I sit, trying again and maybe that is what is most important.

Maybe we never really know when we are leaving too early. Sometimes it really is an illusive concept, readiness. Perhaps some more important traits are willingness. Surrender. Teachability. Openness. I think that these mindsets, put to use, engender readiness.

Prepare all you want, but if you are not surrendering to the process, all of the process including your body, mind and soul, you may not be ready. I know I wasn’t.

While I never had made New Year’s resolutions, this year am resolved to carry hope and tenacity into 2017.

I am surrendering. I am willing to learn and take a real look at myself. I’m willing to stay as long as I can or need to. I’m willing to keep trying when I get home. I am honest with myself and my team. In 2017, I believe I can recover, but more importantly, I have hope in my heart that I can recover.

I don’t know if I’m ready to be in recovery, but I truly believe that ready or not, here I come.



About the Author:


Kiernan O’Dell was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. After earning a BS in Psychology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, she attended Columbia University’s Psychological Counseling Program. O’Dell enjoys writing, and hopes to one day adopt it as a full-time job. According to O’Dell, the current road to recovery and sobriety enabled her to discover her purpose, which is to serve as a mentor for others using her firsthand experience.




10 thoughts on “Eating Disorder Treatment: Leaving Before You’re Ready

  1. Recovery does exist Im recovered from anorexia and bulimia. But it’s a struggle to stay in recovery you’ve got to be strong because most people don’t join by your side saying how proud of you they are most people shame you for having an eating disorder and that’s all they see they don’t believe you that your recovered it’s a never ending battle of arguments with people and doctors. It’s not a pretty life but it’s a better one. Remember who you do the work for, you your health your body and mind. I’m in recovery and I’m here to join you and say how proud I am of you.

    1. Kiernan, you are an inspiration to us all, with or without an eating disorder! You are brave and tenacious and a determined warrior. There are so, so many of us cheering you on from the sidelines, walking the path by your side, praying for your recovery. I am very proud of you!

  2. Kiernan, as I read your article, I have goose bumps on my arms, and tears in my eyes. I feel your pain, not as a person who has suffered from an ED herself, but as a mom who has personally seen her daughter battle this same disease for the same length of time as you….and the fight to stay in treatment, and the insurance battles, and yes sometimes the willingness to keep on fighting….I understand and also feel your HOPE, and your surrender statement, and I want you to know that I will be available to you in anyway you need me when you do leave your current treatment location and return “HOME”

  3. Full recovery – leaving this behind – is entirely possible. I know from my own experience with treatment. But you are absolutely right that surrendering is of the utmost importance – especially with a disorder often marked by a constant need for control. I wish you the very best and hope you can put this behind you to live your fullest life.

  4. I too am a mother of a daughter with an ED. My daughter is now in treatment for the second time. She has been struggling with an ED since she was 8 yrs old. She is now 34. We have exhausted all our resources for the insurance would not pay a dime for inpatient treatment. She is scheduled to get out the end of this month but we were told that she definitely needed to continue treatment at another 3 month living facility. I am desperate to keep my daughter alive! We have got to do something about insurance not accepting ED has a disease!! It seems like only the extreme wealthy can receive the better medical care for someone with a ED!!! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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