Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

Is It a Symptom of an Eating Disorder or Is It Age?

There has been a lot of press lately about the increase of adult women with eating disorders.  This certainly isn’t news to those of us middle-aged women who have somehow been involved with one, but apparently the medical field is now finding this a very real health issue.

In many of the reports I read, doctors admitted they have often overlooked outward signs of an eating disorder in their middle-aged patients.  They stated often attributing what the patient presented (weight loss, feeling depressed, loss of appetite, isolating, etc.) as most likely the result of aging.  The truth is, most women who live silently with an eating disorder are typically not very willing to talk about what is going on for fear of being “found out.”  As a result, the patient leaves the appointment without an accurate diagnosis.

Full disclosure by a patient is certainly not new to the medical community.  Most doctors are educated to identify markers indicating something the patient either cannot or will not talk about.  However based upon these recent studies, when it comes to eating disorders among adult women, doctors are not seeing the markers for what they are which can be quite dangerous.

I see another area of concern.  This one is for those who have recovered from an eating disorder. What about damage done due to years of unhealthy eating behaviors which may lie dormant? Are there some health issues common during the aging process which might be intensified because of this?

I don’t have the answers to those questions but I’m certainly wise enough to take precautionary measures and not close my eyes to the possibility.

When I got home from treatment for anorexia, I needed to stay under close watch of a physician.  I was still moving through the re-feeding process which had caused quite a shock to my body.  All my organs were “waking up”, re-establishing their roles after they had begun to shut down prior to treatment. Clearly there were all kinds of changes going on inside me, some rather uncomfortable.

I was referred to a physician considered one of the best in field of eating disorders.  During my first appointment with this doctor, I knew by the questions she was asking and how she approached me as a patient, she was the real deal.  There was no way I could possibly fabricate my health status while in her care.

She really listened.  She looked in my eyes when I talked.  She took her time with me.  She asked questions that had nothing to do with my day-to-day health but rather about me as a whole. She explained she would continue watching for any health issues I may present which would differ from someone who did not have an eating disorder.  While I felt a bit intimidated, I appreciated her.

I saw her repeatedly at first and gradually experienced longer lapses between appointments, going from six weeks to three months to six months, and then eventually she said “Ok Alison, I’ll see you in a year.”  I stopped in my tracks.  I stared at her like she had just told me I was someone else.  When she asked if I was OK, I told her I’d never experienced a doctor telling me I was fit enough to go 365 days without a return visit, a test to be taken or a follow-up of some sort.  She smiled and said, “You’re fine.  Now go home.”  I remember sitting in my car trying to acknowledge I was indeed considered in good health.  Tears of relief and happiness rolled down my cheeks as I made my way home.

I share this because in all the research I’ve done on the subject, no study has been conducted relative to health issues appearing after recovering from an eating disorder.  The exception of course being what we all know about Osteoporosis.  Loss of bone mass is an issue for many aging women but add to it a long-term relationship with an eating disorder and you’ve got a real problem.  Unfortunately I have already been diagnosed with this and in addition to eating well am on a medicine protocol to keep it from worsening.  While I’m not proud of this diagnosis, I’m truly grateful it is the only consequence after years of disrespecting my body.

I felt compelled to write about this as I look out the window to a truly picture perfect day here in Chicago.  Not a cloud in the sky, 78° with a slight breeze; a day you feel anything is possible.  I missed many moments like this when I lived inside the hell of an eating disorder and I’ve worked very hard to find my way out of it.  Looking out my window right now I’m reminded of why I did.

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4 thoughts on “Is It a Symptom of an Eating Disorder or Is It Age?

  1. Thanks Alison, for this article.

    I have these concerns too.I am worried about what damage has occured ,but the doctors I have consulted dont seem informed about what an eating disorder can cause and I feel a bit lost .Maybe I should just trust I am ok,but that is sometimes hard when you know HOW you have been treating yourself/suffered during the illness.

  2. Hi Emmy and thank you for having the courage to share your concerns. I hope you’ll be able to start trusting in yourself as you continue to verbalize the questions you have with your treatment team. Being honest about any/all changes in your health is the key. One of the toughest things for me to overcome was the fear I couldn’t trust my ability to be in tune with my body. Once I did, I realized that while I can’t change the past, I can fight for my future! XO

  3. I remember being on the phone with you right after this appointment. Indeed, it is so wonderful to look outside and realize that *this* is what you recovered for.

  4. Amen to that Becca! Recovery is, without question, a gift which becomes more valuable over time. The ability to reflect back with appreciation for lessons learned versus judgment for mistakes made is indeed priceless.

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