By Rachel Rood
Recently, I made the difficult decision to make a career shift. It was a very hard decision given the love I have had for working in a residential setting that truly values helping our patients find sustainable recovery outcomes. However, I ultimately made the call to move towards establishing a private practice here in Logan, UT.
Where it All Started
Nine years ago, with some trepidation, I accepted a position as a Registered Dietitian at Avalon Hills, working with girls and women with eating disorders. I had no idea what to expect at the time, and could not have predicted the amazing experience I would have over the next nine years. As I approach the end of my time at Avalon, I’ve taken the opportunity to look back and reflect on the many things I’ve experienced and learned. Although it’s hard to sum up, 9 years in a few paragraphs, I feel there are four life lessons that I’ve learned in my time at Avalon.
1. I’ve Learned About Eating Disorders
In my college nutrition courses, we only learned the surface level diagnostic criteria for eating disorders. We may have had a few guest speakers, or perhaps an internship rotation that provides some real-life exposure to patients with eating disorders, but for the most part, there’s not much training provided. I had only had brief encounters with eating disorders in my pre-Avalon professional life, so 99% of my knowledge of eating disorders happened on-the-job, and it was definitely a baptism-by-fire experience.
What I’ve learned is that an eating disorder is significantly more complex than a textbook diagnosis. I learned that the consequences of an eating disorder are considerably more than physical and nutritional symptoms. There is a detrimental psychological, emotional and personal toll that each client experiences in the throes of their eating disorder. Eating disorders are an entangled combination of thoughts, behaviors and symptoms that are unique to each client. Because no two clients are exactly alike, and the etiology of their eating disorder is never exactly the same, their treatment approach can’t be exactly the same. Most importantly, each client is a distinctive individual who are so much more than their eating disorder. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with so many amazing and talented girls and women.
2. I’ve Learned About Myself
The trepidation I felt when I started at Avalon was around if I would like working with this population, and if I’d be any good at it. What I discovered is that it can be very challenging, but also amazingly rewarding. With support and help from the wonderful staff and my co-workers at Avalon Hills, I also discovered that I was also pretty good at my job and that I really enjoyed it. I love the treatment team approach at Avalon that supports the clients, but is also helpful for staff growth and development. I learned that I like to cross-country ski, and do yoga and I’ve taken a few spins around the “wheel of awareness”. I learned that I love Amish Oatmeal and molasses cookies. I also developed a relationship of mutual toleration with a cat named Choo Choo. Avalon Hills gave me the opportunity to stretch and grow professionally and personally that I will forever be grateful for.
3. I Learned that Change is a Constant
Over the past nine years, I’ve seen numerous changes at Avalon Hills. Most of them have been in pursuit of enhancing the program and striving to improve client outcomes. Change is hard for me (something I already knew about myself), but it is inspiring to me that those in charge at Avalon Hills aren’t content to rest on their laurels and say we were doing good enough. There is always a desire and push to do a little better. I’ve seen numerous clients come and go, and they have all touched my life and my heart, and I love to hear how they are doing. I’ve also seen numerous staff come and go, and my life has been enriched from getting to know them and I also love to hear how they are doing. Maybe it was the push for change and growth that led me to ultimately decide that it was time for me to change and grow by starting a private practice and applying what I’ve learned at Avalon in a different setting, but with the same goal of helping clients move toward wellness. Which leads me to my last point . . .
4. I Learned that Recovery is Possible
I have been so blessed to play a small part in the recovery journey of so many clients. It is such a joy to see the transformation that occurs as girls and women break out of the shell of their eating disorder to move on to thrive in their full, rich, lives – free from their eating disorder. I’ve also learned that no one is a lost cause, that no matter how many times you’ve lapsed or relapsed, that full recovery is possible and worth the struggle and challenge to get there. I know, because I’ve seen it happen.
Okay, maybe I’ve learned a 5th thing – Goodbyes are never easy. Over the years, I’ve had to say a lot of goodbyes, but I think this will be the hardest one. I’m so grateful to Avalon Hills for all of the experiences, challenges, triumphs, laughs and lessons that I’ve learned over the last nine years. I treasure the lasting friendships that I’ve gained. I thank them for allowing me to be a part of their Treat To Outcome family and appreciate their support as I embark on the next leg of my personal journey.