whitney hanson

Dr. Whitney H.: Overcoming Compulsive Exercise

I've had OCD since my earliest memories, but I wasn't officially diagnosed until age 12. When my exercise habits became "extreme" during pharmacy school, I figured it was just "the obsession of the moment." Unfortunately, the compulsive exercise did not go away, and as I graduated pharmacy school and started my career, I also began to restrict food in addition to my working out.

It took me a long time to seek help; as a healthcare provider myself, part of me was convinced that I could fix the issue alone and that my "problem" wasn't as severe as many of the critically ill patients I provided care to during my shifts at work. As my job at the hospital became busier and more demanding, I also accepted an evening job teaching competitive Irish dancing. Between the two positions, I routinely worked 7-day weeks, and up to 15 hours a day for months at a time. When I wasn't working at the hospital, I was planning for dance classes, giving private lessons, or traveling internationally to support my students in competition.

I worked hard to convince myself, my family, and ultimately my treatment team, that I thrived on this intense schedule. I told everyone that I couldn't be truly happy unless I was in constant motion. I was able to keep up this charade for a few years, until my physical health started to get worse, and I found it hard to even stand up long enough to teach a dance class, let alone actually dance.

Ten years into my eating disorder, I sought help for the first time. But even as I admitted to my first-ever residential treatment facility, I was not ready to accept that I had a problem. Therefore, upon discharge I went right back to my old routines: over-exercising, restricting, and working non-stop. The various treatment programs I attempted over the next year still left me uninspired to change; It was hard for me to trade in my “anorexia rules” to meet the rules outlined by the various programs. I felt that the only way I had control over anything in my life was to control my food, exercise, and what my body looked like. Two years after my first inpatient/residential admission, I found myself back in treatment except this time I was motivated and felt like I could face my eating disorder head on. I ended up coming home early due to COVID, and my condition rapidly declined and within several months, I was admitted to ACUTE.

As soon as I arrived at ACUTE, I knew the quality of the care was on a different level than I had experienced during other inpatient and residential settings. At ACUTE, I had a name, and most importantly, I had a voice. My care team at ACUTE talked to me like a healthcare provider I am, and I started to truly understand my anorexia as a complex, multi-faceted disease that was impacting a lot more than just my mental health. Having a team in which every member, RNs, CNAs, RDs, Social Workers, Psychologists and Physicians, went above and beyond to get to know me, explain things to me, and help me on my recovery journey, truly changed the way I practice patient care with my own patients today. I consider ACUTE the gold standard in medical practice and work hard to make each of my own patients feel as special and cared for as everyone at ACUTE did for me.

I would love to say that my struggles with anorexia ended when I left ACUTE and completed my follow-up care. Unfortunately, I contracted COVID shortly after my discharge and ended up relapsing. Within several months, my health rapidly declined, and I was hospitalized again when I became too ill to function during my work shifts. Being a patient again was truly daunting... However, I'm so grateful for the knowledge and resources I gained at ACUTE, because I was able safely go through the re-feeding process again and forge a path towards a stable and healthy recovery.

I'm happy to report that today, I'm the healthiest that I've been in over 10 years. Not only do I genuinely enjoy the experience of having a meal, but colors seem more vibrant, smells sweeter, sounds are clearer, and the world more expansive and beautiful than I ever remember. Do I still struggle? Absolutely. But going back to how things were is not an option I ever want to entertain. The beauty of my current situation is that I am now in a position where I can work with my hospital providers and colleagues daily, to help them learn more about eating disorders, malnutrition, and medical management of the complications that go hand-in-hand with these conditions.

If it was not for ACUTE, I would not be here today - advocating for improving provider knowledge, growing my collection of beautiful orchids or re-connecting to family and friends in a way I never thought possible. I am beyond grateful for the gold standard of care that ACUTE provides and I hope that my own patients feel as respected and cared for with such compassion as I felt at ACUTE.

ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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