It’s what keeps physicians silent. It’s what keeps physicians from getting the help they need.
I’ve been a successful doctor for many years, but I’ve lived with the shame of having an eating disorder. It was my secret that hardly anyone in my life knew about.
No more. My shame is gone, and I’m ready to tell you my story.
When I was in eating disorder recovery, my therapist asked me a question that I thought about for many months to come. She asked me, “Why are you so ashamed of your eating disorder?”
The only answer I could come up with was, “It represents a personal failure.”
By its very nature, medical school attracts driven, hard-working people who have rarely known failure. Then, throughout our medical training, we are taught to pursue perfection.
Even though perfection is impossible, we all strive to be the best physicians we can be.
But what happens when those perfectionist tendencies affect how you eat? What happens when your desire for certainty causes you to abuse food when things don’t go according to plan?
I’ve had an eating disorder since I was 17 years old. However, it worsened in medical school, and it worsened even more throughout residency. It continued once I became an attending, and I’d gotten to the point where I believed my eating disorder was just a chronic illness that I was going to have to live with for the rest of my life.
Then COVID hit, and everything fell apart. Eating disorders are often about control, so I attempted to regain it through eating when the pandemic took that control away.
I’ve engaged in almost every eating disorder behavior you can imagine throughout my life. But when COVID hit, my coping mechanism became eating.
I tried to eat away all of the pain, fear, uncertainty, anger, and frustration that I had. I tried to eat it all away for more than a year until my life coach helped me realize that continuing down this path wasn’t sustainable.
I finally gave myself permission to seek help.
So many physicians struggle with their mental health in silence. We believe the voice in our head that says we should be ashamed for not having it all together. After all, we’re physicians.
I certainly thought this way. I was so ashamed that I made it through years of medical training, but I couldn’t make it through one day without binging.
I finally got help, and since then, my life has never been better. I’ve never been happier than I am now. I’ve never been a better mother than I am now. I’ve never been a better physician than I am now.
My shame about my eating disorder forced me to suffer in silence for 25 years. No more. I will no longer hide. I will no longer be silent. Physicians are struggling, and they need to hear stories of hope.
Thus, I’m sharing my story to encourage anyone who is reading this and has an eating disorder to get help.
I’m sharing my story because even though only a minority of physicians have medically diagnosed eating disorders, many of us engage in disordered eating behaviors.
I’m sharing my story because our medical training is filled with anti-fat bias.
I’m sharing my story because so many patients with eating disorders are traumatized when their doctor prescribes weight loss and restriction.
I’m sharing my story so that other physicians will have the courage to share theirs.
Thanks for listening.
Trina E. Dorrah is an internal medicine physician and the author of Physician’s Guide to Surviving CGCAHPS & HCAHPS. She can be reached at Dr Trina Dorrah Life Coaching.
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