As I sit down to write this I can notice some anxiety in my body (for my clients you will recognize this language all too well!). The reason for this anxiety is that I am about to discuss forced feeding, a topic that is heavily rooted in eating disorder recovery and one that I personally struggle with. My hope with writing this blog is that it will get a conversation started around what people think about forced feeding and how they see it fit within their own recovery, but first I should dive into what that looks like.
Forced feeding is the process wherein an individual is fed food against their will and happens most frequently in hospital and treatment facilities. It makes sense as to why these programs have to implement these tactics given that most people with eating disorders struggle to feed themselves properly and would refuse food when offered if they had the choice. It is also understandable why so many treatment facilities adopt this approach. They have a limited amount of time and have to have consistency for everyone.
While I understand all of that, forced feeding has its own set of issues.
For starters, I think it is tricky to have someone actually recover when they are not choosing to get well. This isn’t to say that this is always a choice, if medical stabilization is required then forced feeding is necessary in order to keep someone alive. Assuming medical stabilization isn’t required, the challenge arises when the individual leaves treatment because they have never been taught how to actually listen to their bodies. Learning how to properly feed your body and give it what it is asking for is a crucial skill for those who are recovering. If they don’t know how to listen to their bodies they won’t know how to feed themselves properly or how to eat when they are hungry and stop when they have had enough.
Restricting is a defense that prevents clients from dealing with their anxiety and their feelings. In hospitals and treatment facilities this coping strategy is obviously removed. The challenge arises when we aren’t teaching an individual the necessary skills to deal with their emotions in a healthy way or in a way that causes the client to recognize their emotions before they overwhelm her. My concern is how forced feeding puts the focus on food when food is just the presenting symptom.
Additionally it doesn’t engage the will of the patient to want to treat herself differently and, as is evident in the relapse rates in eating disorders, until someone actually wants to have a healthy relationship with themselves, she will continue to turn to destructive behaviors to cope. In treatment the staff has control over what a client eats and how much. When the client leaves, having not had to engage their own will to feed themselves properly, she has no idea how to do that on her own in a way that she can actually feel comfortable with. When overwhelm is the dominant emotion, people are more likely to turn to the habits that soothe them (restricting) then the decisions they know are best.
Truthfully I could write about this a lot more because I think it is a conversation worth having but I am aware of how long these posts can already get. Tell me, what are your thoughts on forced feeding? Do you think they do more good than harm or the other way around?