Tips for Speaking with Your Doctor about Anorexia

Doctors can carry weight stigma into their work

Think you or a loved one may have anorexia? If so, it’s critical for you to meet with your doctor right away. Research shows that anorexia is the most fatal mental disorder, with an estimated mortality rate of approximately 10 percent [1]. The good news is, anorexia is a highly treatable illness that many people fully recover from.

However, as numerous studies show, early detection and treatment are key to a successful recovery [2]. Meaning it’s important to meet with your doctor early on to assess your illness and get referrals to eating disorder specialists in your area. So if you or a loved one may have an eating disorder (ED), here are some tips for speaking with your doctor about anorexia.

5 Tips for Speaking with Your Doctor about Anorexia

Educate Yourself – If you think you or a loved one may have anorexia, take some time to educate yourself about the signs, symptoms, risk factors, and complications associated with anorexia. By familiarizing yourself with anorexia before visiting the doctor, you will be better prepared to speak with your doctor about the illness and better able to advocate for yourself if you feel your questions/concerns are not being addressed.

Prepare Ahead of Time – Talking to your doctor about anorexia can feel intimidating for many people. To help put you at ease during the visit and ensure you have all your questions and concerns addressed, make sure to prepare ahead of time.

The best way to do this is to write down a list of questions you want to ask, symptoms you hope to mention, and any concerns you might have. Write or type out the list in an easy-to-read script and bring it along with you during the appointment.

If you’re not sure what types of questions to ask your doctor, here is a list to get you started:

  • Have you helped other people with anorexia? If not, can you refer me to a doctor who has experience with anorexia patients?
  • Do I need a physical exam or any tests run to look for complications related to the eating disorder?
  • Have I hurt my physical health in any way?
  • Can I reverse any damage that’s already been done?
  • Will my menstrual cycle return? (if applicable)
  • Where can I get more information about anorexia and treatment options?
  • Can you refer me to an eating disorder treatment program, ED specialist, ED dietitian, and/or ED support group for further treatment and recovery support?

Be Open and Honest – If you haven’t talked about your eating disorder with many people, it may feel difficult to speak openly about your symptoms and struggles with your doctor. However, keep in mind that your doctor is there to help and support you on your journey to recovery. And the only way they can do this is if they understand what’s really going on.

Therapist listening to patient discussing AnorexiaSo determine ahead of time to speak openly and honestly about your symptoms and struggles. It may help to write down what you want to say in the form of a letter or simple bullet points that you can give to your doctor or read from during the visit.

Here is a list of things you should share with your doctor:

  • Any and all health complications you may be experiencing
  • If (and how often) you engage in compensatory behaviors after eating (self-induced vomiting, enemas, use of laxatives, excessive exercise, diet aids, etc.)
  • If (and how often) you restrict your food intake through fasting or dieting
  • If (and how often) you engage in binge-purge episodes
  • If (and how often) you skip meals or refuse to eat
  • How you feel about weight gain
  • How you feel about your body
  • If you are experiencing changes in mood (irritability, lack of emotion, feelings of depression, social withdrawal, reduced sex drive, etc.)
  • If you are experiencing insomnia

Bring Support – When speaking with your doctor about anorexia, it may be helpful to bring a trusted family member or friend along for extra support. While you may want your support person to sit in the appointment with you and take part in some of the discussion, you may also prefer for them to wait in the lobby so you can speak with the doctor alone. Most importantly, do whatever makes you feel comfortable and at ease.

Be Your Own Advocate – If you think you or a loved one may have anorexia, but your doctor does not refer you to a specialist, don’t be afraid to ask to speak to another doctor or seek out an eating disorder specialist on your own. Since General Practitioner (GP) doctors do not specialize in eating disorders, you may encounter a doctor who has misconceptions about anorexia.

For example, if your doctor doesn’t take your symptoms seriously, tells you your weight isn’t low enough for an anorexia diagnosis, or simply brushes off your concerns without referring you to an ED specialist, you probably need to look for another doctor. Remember that early detection and treatment are critical to recovery, so keep advocating for yourself and don’t give up until you find a healthcare provider that will help and support you on your road to recovery.


References:

[1] Insel, T. (2012, February 24). Post by Former NIMH Director Thomas Insel: Spotlight on Eating Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/directors/thomas-insel/blog/2012/spotlight-on-eating-disorders.shtml#i.
[2] Seeking Professional Help. National Eating Disorders Collaboration. https://nedc.com.au/seeking-professional-help.


About the Author:

Sarah Musick PhotoSarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.

Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published January 30, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on January 30, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.