Could Your Doctor Diagnose an Eating Disorder?

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I know that I had initially promised that this post would focus on how I dealt with my eating disorder thoughts while I was on vacation, but I came across an article in Glamour magazine, during my travels, which I felt was WAY more important to share. In the april issue of Glamour magazine, which features Lena Dunham on the cover, I read an amazing, but disturbing, article entitled, “Could You Spot Someone With an Eating Disorder”. The story highlights just how inept most general physicians are when it comes to diagnosing patients with eating disorders. The lack of knowledge surrounding this serious mental health disease within the medical community is devastating and it is simply unacceptable. Through Glamour’s undercover report they concluded that “shockingly, most doctor’s can’t (diagnose an eating disorder) – and their blind spots are keeping women from getting the lifesaving care they need.” It is crucial then for all of us who have faced a hurdle like this one, in our journey to recovery, to talk about this issue and help others to find doctors and resources who can truly help.

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Unfortunately I can relate all too closely to the experiences of the women who recounted their own doctors visits in the article. I have never liked doctors and do, to some extent, “blame” my prior treatment by physicians as setting me up, or making me more prone to developing an eating disorder. When I was younger I dreaded going to the doctors and wouldn’t eat that whole day because I knew I had to be weighed and I probably wouldn’t like what the scale had to say. This is a behavior that I still struggle with to this day. I have so much anxiety attached to getting weighed and it’s all because of how harshly my childhood doctor treated me. She never took into consideration others factors that could have attributed to my more “mature” weight (like the fact I went through puberty at a young age) and truly made me feel like an obese pariah. An even more traumatizing experience, which also involved a doctor occurred right when I began deliberately trying to lose weight my sophomore fall in college. I had strained my foot from overusing it and the physician I met with asked me flat out: “Why are you running so much? Is it because you want to lose weight? You know that if you want to really lose weight you need to start altering your diet too?” I was completely mortified because in my mind, clearly to this doctor, I must have looked like I needed to lose weight and from that day on I started restricting. I’m not saying that the physician in this case was wrong in his advice, but what I do believe is that his tone and how he went about addressing this issue was completely unprofessional and in my case traumatizing. Maybe if he had said this to someone else they would have reacted completely differently, but he didn’t, he said it to me and unfortunately for me it opened Pandora’s box and my eating disorder started to spiral out of control.

After I started, slowly, to believe I had an eating disorder I began to meet with MANY doctors and in all honesty most were not helpful and extremely ill informed on what I was dealing with in regard to my eating disorder. I usually left appointments feeling like I was “making up” that  something was wrong with me and that the strong disordered thoughts that were a constant in my head weren’t really an issue. My struggle was not being validated so I continued to tell myself that nothing was the matter when in all actuality I was really very sick. I had dropped a significant amount of weight, I was orthostatic, and my lab work was off, but I wasn’t underweight and so most doctors usually found other explanations for my symptoms. They plain and simple avoided diagnosing me with an eating disorder because they didn’t feel comfortable doing so since it is such a complex and multifaceted disease. Luckily for me though I had Dr. Sherrie Delinsky on my team pretty much from the start and she was able to be my rock and guide me through all the chaos that arose from my appointments with other doctors. She was ALWAYS on my side and wouldn’t give up on me. She knew I had a serious eating disorder and she was determined to get me the help I needed, and deserved, in order to recover. Dr. Delinsky steered me in the right direction and found a general practitioner in my area who had dealt with eating disorders and was knowledgable about this mental health issue. Dr. Elizabeth Maier, MD is great and I would highly recommend her to anyone else struggling with this disease. She knows how to speak to eating disorder patients and has the resources to help. I know, personally, that once I had a team of doctors set up, who are all constantly fighting for me my journey to recovery has become significantly more manageable and I am being held accountable, which is crucial to my experience.

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Glamour’s article also touched on some important statistics that  includes the fact that 30 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder, but only 1 in 10 of them will receive proper treatment and approximately 60% of eating disorder sufferers recover fully with treatment. What this shows is that the caliber of treatment that most eating disordered individuals are receiving from their physicians is shockingly low and inadequate. It is crucial that we do what ever we can to help open the eyes of the medical community to see just how serious eating disorders are and that what they say can negatively or positively impact their patient’s recovery. I’m doing my part by sharing with all of you my experiences as well as the treatment team I have set up, all of whom are amazing doctors and who I would recommend highly, but this is just the start. We need to do a better job about educating everyone about this issue and just by taking a minute to become more educated about the mental health disease, with the highest mortality rate, is a step in the right direction. So check out MEDA -Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association to learn more and remember you are stronger than you believe and you don’t have to do this by yourself.

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