Excuse me Doc, this was NOT a Teenage Phase

Today I had my yearly physical, a dreaded experience in my book as I loathe the needles and prodding. My doctor came into the room after all the tests were run and looked at my file and began to ask about how I was doing – physically and mentally. She glanced down at my chart and noted my past weights and history with Anorexia and proceeded to ask how I “am doing with that.” I responded that I’m okay, I’m eating healthfully now and my attitude is good. To which she said, and I begrudgingly quote: “yes, you know these eating disorders are just a teen phase for young girls.”

And so I begin…

Dear Doctor,
Should I really be calling you by that title, “Doctor”? I understand that you went to medical school and passed all the necessary tests, but your ignorance makes me question whether I want to give you such respect.

As a survivor of Anorexia and someone who now works in the field I am familiar with the misconceptions (The  following are a mere handful among the many other myths and misconceptions in the world today):

Eating disorders are about vanity.
Eating disorders a choice.
Eating disorders only strike women.
They are just a teen phase.

Well I’m writing to you to clear up a few things.

My eating disorder was not a phase. I did not wake up one morning, have my caramel latte and decide Anorexia would be a good idea for a while. It had been growing inside me, taking root in my mind for quite some time. Only when I went through pain and hell that I could in no way handle did it rise to the surface and begin to hold me captive. It spiraled and I became completely disconnected. I was a walking shadow, don’t you remember Doc? Putting food in my mouth felt unnatural and torturous, and glancing in the mirror or down at this body that I found grotesque resulted in anger and tears.

This was not a teenage phase. 
It is never just a phase.

I did not “give up” on my eating disorder after some time because I got bored or saw that it wasn’t for me – the normal progression when someone goes through a phase. No, I had to fight with every ounce of strength to repair my broken mind, heart, and body. I went through months in treatment centers and had to learn how to eat and have relationships again. How to not only tolerate, but love myself again.

I remember finally telling my friends about my eating disorder, and cringing when they made remarks like food is delicious, or why don’t you just eat? An eating disorder is hardly about the weight at all, it is about the psychological suffering of that individual. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected my friends to know that. But you…shouldn’t you know more about the illness which results in the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder?

The first step for an individual with an eating disorder is often a physical examination. I can’t begin to imagine how you make patients feel when they come to you, distraught, angry, and full of unreleased emotions. And you tell them that this is just a phase, nothing to be too concerned about. What about all the men who come to see you, or the middle aged or elderly women? How must it make them feel? These demographics are often glossed over in relation to eating disorders. Picture the shame that you are promoting among these suffering men and women, when you flippantly discuss their mental health. There is already tremendous embarrassment surrounding this disorder, a feeling that I needed to be taught to move past; why should I feel ashamed of an illness? That is what this disorder must be thought of – an illness – and who knows more about illnesses than you, Doc? Doesn’t that warrant the necessary knowledge and research on your part?

Eating disorders are real, and they are deadly. You should know, it’s doctors like you that inspire the insurance companies to not provide benefits because “it’s not really that detrimental.” Having started to work in a treatment center I’ve been witness to countless calls by insurance companies telling the therapists that the patients “are not really underweight, so they must be fine.” Or, “this patient has been there for 3 weeks, we’re going to cut her because she must be better by now.” How does it feel knowing that you promote these negative mindsets?

It’s time to get an education.

Your (former) patient,

I write this post not simply to vent my frustration at the ignorance of a physician. Rather, I write it to show you, the reader, that we must all work together to know the truth. My history involves an eating disorder. This field holds both my past and future and the myths surrounding not only what I went through – but what through countless others go through – frustrate, anger, and above all sadden me. An eating disorder can strike male and female at any age. They are serious and not to be ignored.

We must work together to educate ourselves and be among the voices who can look individuals like the doctor in the face and respectfully tell them: No, you’re wrong.


About the Author
Temimah Zucker, LMSW is a primary therapist at Monte Nido Manhattan and also works in private practice in the fields of eating disorders, self-esteem, and mental health. Temimah writes and publicly speaking on these subjects and is also an adjunct professor in NYC teaching on the subject of the treatment of eating disorders. For information or inquiries please see her website.
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