7 Things I Wish All Doctors Knew About Eating Disorders
1. If you see concerning symptoms, say something.
Eating disorder symptoms can widely vary, but please familiarize yourself with them — and if you see symptoms, say something. The earlier an eating disorder is caught and treated, the better the prognosis is. My primary care doctor caught my symptoms early and didn’t hesitate to recommend treatment and monitor my symptoms closely. I think her awareness and willingness to tell me she suspected an eating disorder was the thing that opened the door to getting treatment and eventually finding recovery.
2. Ask specific questions.
When I was in the throes of my eating disorder and someone asked me if I was having trouble eating, I remember saying no. Not because I was trying to be deceptive or misleading, but because in my mind my eating was honestly just fine — though in objective reality, it most certainly wasn’t. In this situation for example, maybe ask, “What are you eating on a typical day?”
3. If you’re seeing someone with an eating disorder diagnosis for the first time, still ask questions.
Just because someone comes in with a prior diagnosis of bulimia does not mean they are currently bingeing and purging. Just because someone comes in with a prior diagnosis of anorexia does not mean they will still be underweight. Eating disorder symptoms often vary greatly over time, so it’s an incredibly important you ask specific questions about current symptoms.
4. Eating disorders don’t just happen to white teenage girls.
Often the media portrays people with eating disorders, especially anorexia, as exclusively occurring in white teenage girls. While that population definitely is affected, they are by no means alone. Eating disorders happen to men and women of all races and ages. Just because someone is elderly, or identifies as a man, or is a person of color does not mean the symptoms you’re seeing are not an eating disorder.
5. Be patient.
Treatment can take a long time. Relapses happen. It’s just as frustrating for your patient with an eating disorder as it is for you.
6. If you’re seeing a patient with an eating disorder, ask them if it’s OK for them to see their weight.
Often at a doctor’s office part of getting checked in for the appointment includes stepping on the scale. For some individuals with eating disorders that’s not a problem at all. For others, it can be a huge trigger and cause a major setback — especially if they are in treatment and have been doing “blind weights” (where they don’t see their weight, but the professional does). Ask before you weigh.
7. Eating disorders can and do usually get better with treatment.
Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do for a patient facing an eating disorder is give them hope and let them know recovery is possible. The more those of us with eating disorders hear that others have hope for our recovery, the more we’re able to have it for ourselves.
Getty Images photo via SARINYAPINNGAM