A Rocky Transition: From Youth to Adult with an Eating Disorder

Portrait de Chloe Grande

Now that I was living four hours away from my primary support system, I had to become my own carer. That seemed impossible, given my initial reluctance to recognize how severe my disordered eating had become. Taking one’s healthcare into your own hands is a huge and seemingly overwhelming responsibility for any student with mental illness.

The last thing someone with an eating disorder wants to hear is “just eat.” That’s more or less what I was told by a doctor at my university’s medical clinic when I relapsed with my eating disorder. 
Sitting in a dimly lit office, I remember the doctor pulling out a copy of Canada’s Food Guide and telling me in a patronizing tone to make sure I followed it, as if it was that easy. That’s all the advice he offered to someone exhibiting the signs of one of the most deadly mental illnesses.
I didn’t book a follow-up appointment. 
He had reduced my eating disorder — a complex mental condition with severe medical consequences — to a simple matter of eating more food. There was no consideration given to the deeper roots of my disordered eating, like my underlying depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the last time I felt misunderstood and let down in my transition from youth to adult eating disorder services. One evening, I received a frantic call from the student medical clinic about my low heart rate. They told me to go to the emergency department right away. So I did, only to sit around for hours, be assessed quickly and discharged to my student residence with no follow-up recommendations. The outpatient eating disorder program I was later referred to clashed with my student schedule. It was either I attended their drop-in programs or went to class. I chose to focus on school. 
A wake-up call
It became clear that adult eating disorder services looked much different than the Family Based Treatment I received back home. When I was initially diagnosed with anorexia at age 15, my treatment included a well-rounded team of physicians, dieticians and psychologists who specialized in adolescent eating disorders. My family was also heavily involved in treatment and played a key role in getting my eating habits back on track. 
Now that I was living four hours away from my primary support system, I had to become my own carer. That seemed impossible, given my initial reluctance to recognize how severe my disordered eating had become. Taking one’s healthcare into your own hands is a huge and seemingly overwhelming responsibility for any student with mental illness.
Finding community on campus
The university and college periods — when there’s less structure and more work — are peak times for eating disorder onset and relapse. Combine that with a drive for perfectionism and people-pleasing, and you have many risk factors for the development of an eating disorder. 
Despite being let down by treatment options, I was uplifted and inspired by the increased discussion around mental health on campus. I joined an eating disorder awareness club and participated in body positivity campaigns. I had a chance to speak with other students with eating disorders, recognizing I wasn’t as alone as I thought. Gradually, I built up the confidence to write about my eating disorder recovery journey in the student newspaper. Little did I know that I was setting the foundation for what would later become a career in mental health advocacy. I can’t imagine how much harder the move from youth to adult care services has become for students over the pandemic, with all the increased stress and anxieties they’re facing.
The path forward 
These days we’re seeing the devastating toll Covid has taken on young people’s mental health with a surge in eating disorder diagnoses. According to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, girls aged 10 to 17 with eating disorders were hospitalized nearly 60 per cent more than before the pandemic. 
What happens when these individuals age out of youth services? And what if the ballooning wait lists for treatment are creating more severe and enduring eating disorders? These youth need a much smoother transition than I had. Reflecting back, I would have appreciated having someone there to ease the transition of care from adolescent to adult care. I’ve since learned about the role of a “designated most responsible provider,” which is a healthcare provider who works with a young person to coordinate care during the move to adult services. If I had someone to support me in this capacity it would have helped lift a huge burden off my shoulders.
It also would have helped to have some form of eating disorder-specific peer support and virtual care options to work around my hectic student schedule. For example,  Eating Disorders Nova Scotia has an online peer support chat moderated by trained Peer Mentors. Body Brave is a Hamilton-based charity offering virtual, community treatment for eating disorders. And the National Eating Disorder Information Centre is regularly updating their website with Canada-wide online support groups. 
None of these options existed ten years ago, when I desperately needed to feel validated with my struggles — the opposite of how that one doctor made me feel.
I don’t have a single solution for helping individuals with mental illness feel more supported during the transition from youth to adult eating disorder services. I do know what helped me the most was being part of a greater mental health community, interacting with compassionate and knowledgeable healthcare providers, and developing an understanding that recovery had to be a choice I made for myself. 

Portrait de Chloe Grande
About the author

Chloe Grande

Chloë Grande is a communications specialist turned eating disorder recovery blogger, writer and speaker. She started blogging during the pandemic to create a sense of community for individuals going through similar challenges. Learn more by visiting her website: www.chloegrande.com or following her on Instagram and Twitter: @chloshegrows.
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