“Try These Pills”
You feel terrible.
You go to the doctors.
Their tests say there’s nothing wrong with you.
“Here, try these pills,” they say.
You leave the office feeling confused and hopeless.
How will you ever feel better if the doctors can’t find a problem?
There is a way. I’m going to tell you how.
First we’ll start with a true story.
At this point I have been an exercise addict and disordered eater for three or four years.
When chaotic eating, life-consuming exercise, and falling asleep at the wheel become part of my daily life I finally bite the bullet and seek help. My symptoms are as follows: extreme hunger (despite eating 6 meals a day), bloating, gas, abdominal pain, alternating diarrhea with constipation, severe anxiety or racing thoughts, exhaustion during the day along with falling asleep while driving (especially bad around noon), insomnia at night, usually waking up around 2:30am and having to consume a large meal to get back to sleep.
I see a gastroenterologist and a sleep specialist. I provide an honest and detailed history, informing them that I still struggle with the remnants of anorexia, am currently addicted to exercise and workout several times a day, everyday, that I do not menstruate, have osteopenia, and a history of depression. Additionally, I work a very busy schedule and feel that I am constantly rushing and under stress. My body weight is slightly below the “healthy” limit based on my height. My blood pressure runs on the low side as does my body temperature.
Initial consultations, lab work, paperwork, and follow-up appointments pepper several weeks of my life. I’m OK with the time, energy, and money expenditure because I am hell bent on finding a solution. After preforming a series of unpleasant test such as providing fecal samples and staying overnight in a sleep lab with EEG wires strapped to my head, I am informed that there is nothing wrong with me. Yes, the doctors agree that my symptoms are severe and clearly present, however the tests point to no clear solution or illness.
Never do the doctors comment on what I share with them about my eating habits, extreme exercise or stress level. Instead, I am given a prescription for a stimulant drug to take to help me stay awake and avoid the noonday car naps. The exercise addict part of my brain shouts hoary knowing that a stimulant will help me push myself even harder in my workouts. To resolve the gastronomical issues the doctor recommends that I, a patient with a clearly stated history of anorexia, who is still underweight, go on an elimination diet, which requires me to cut out all food groups aside from a special few, which are highly unlikely to cause gastric distress. The eating disorder part of my brain is elated knowing that this is a sure way to lose more weight.
That’s a hard story to stomach. Sometimes it can feel like the deck is stacked against you.
Why is this happening?
There is a lack of connection between the research and the doctors.
Communication is breaking down somewhere along the line.
Or the research isn’t reaching the doctors fast enough.
This personal account is a great example of the importance of expanding the breadth and depth of the medical community’s understanding of eating disorders and exercise addiction.
This story is not intended to blame or vilify the individual doctors as they are working to their fullest capacity with their pool of resources and knowledge. However, it is the responsibility of each individual provider to recognize when he/she is faced with a problem outside of his/her scope of practice.
But where can the doctors refer his/her patient to? What could these specialists have done differently? That is a difficult question to answer and one that will be saved for a future post.
What YOU can do about it. Here are 3 steps to help you find the help you need.
1. SEARCH: Find local medical facilities and doctors in your area that treat eating disorders and body image issues.
Why? Because they are most likely to have also been trained in the area of exercise and energy balance related issues.
How? Try a Google search using key words such as “eating disorder, body image, doctor, your city/town” or “eating disorder providers your city/town“.
Here are 2 excellent tools for locating help near you:
Something Fishy (you will see a tab on the right called “Treatment Finder”)
You can also call schools, colleges, and university health centers. They will definitely have a referral list.
And doing a simple Google search for “eating disorder specialist”, “eating disorder treatment”, and “eating disorder doctor” along with you city/location should turn up some helpful results.
2. ASK: Find other people (in person or online) who have similar struggles and see who they trust recommend.
This step take courage. It can be difficult to ask someone you know about such personal matters. It may be more comfortable to start this process online.
You can find people in online forums, in the comments section of blog posts, and in other online community groups connected to eating disorder awareness. Dropping your questions in the forums and comments sections can be a great way to find new resources.
3. CONNECT: Call and/or email at least three of the referrals that you discover.
Give them a brief history and reason for seeking their help. Ask if they offer a free consultation to see if they would be a good fit for you.
Be sure to clearly state that you are looking for someone with EXPERIENCE in treating exercise addiction. If the doctor replies back to you stating that they do not have experience, ask them if they can refer you to other doctors or if they have any recommendations.
Most likely, this will be enough to get you connected to the people you need to begin to build a solid platform in seeking help. If your first three attempts don’t work, try three more. You WILL find the right fit. Don’t settle. Listen to your gut and seek the advice from others who have been there.
It’s time to take action.
Three simple steps, search-ask-connect can help you avoid wasted time, pain, and frustration.
Are you ready to feel better? Drop me a comment below and tell me how you’re going about implementing these step.
I want to hear your thoughts. What needs to change within our medical system and HOW can we make these changes happen?
Remember, complaining without offering a solution is not productive. Could the patient have done something different to get a better outcome? Could she have been more clear? How about the specialists? What could they have done differently?
I want to hear your creative ideas about how to prevent stories like this from occurring.
I also want to inspire you to keep searching. Disappointments, roadblocks, and limits pepper our life. Keep going. Keep seeking. Keep growing.
Do you have a story about an excellent/positive/terrible/funny medical experience? Tell me! I may use it for a future post.
And of course, I welcome you to share this story. Let’s work together and find ways to improve our health and our health care system.