This information is intended for those who think they may have an eating disorder and who wish to attend their family doctor or a general practitioner for help. It is also for people who may be seeing a counsellor or other professional who has asked them to attend their GP. It will inform those who are concerned about someone close to them, perhaps a daughter or a son, a partner or a friend, and who may wish to accompany that person on a visit to the doctor.
Recovery from an eating disorder begins with the recognition that the condition has taken control of your life or is in the process of doing so and with the realization that you need help to enable you to start working towards getting better.
The process of recovery involves getting help with the physical/medical aspects of your disorder as well as the emotional/psychological dimensions. Your GP or family doctor is the best person to consult initially. S/he may need to refer you to other sources of help, but in order to be in a position to make a diagnosis and to devise a treatment plan your GP will first of all want to establish your medical and psychological status.
It is not uncommon for a person struggling with an eating disorder to feel ashamed of their symptoms, and to deny some of them. If you can share your fears and tell your doctor how you feel, it can help you to create an atmosphere where you will feel safe and be better able to express your apprehensions, ask questions and be more open in describing what you have been experiencing.
First of all your doctor will most likely ask you about what has been happening in your life, particularly in the recent past. S/he may ask you about your family and may want to take a full medical history. S/he may then decide to give you a thorough physical examination. This may include taking your temperature, checking your weight, height, heart rate and blood pressure.
Blood and/or urine tests may be required. These can provide vital information to assist your recovery. Bone density and ECG tests are also sometimes recommended.
Having established your needs and discussed them with you, your doctor can then decide how best your needs can be met. S/he may refer you to one or more of the following: a counsellor or psychotherapist, a psychologist, a nutritionist or dietitian, or a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders. A referral to a pediatrician may be required in the case of children and younger adolescents.
It is important to understand that most, if not all, of the medical/ physical changes brought about by eating disorders are reversible over time. The sooner you can begin to engage with treatment, the sooner this process can begin. Going to your doctor is the best way to get started. Try to remember also that the sooner you get started, the better the outcome.
Finding a GP:
See the Bodywhys National Directory of Service Providers for contact details of some GPs with experience of working with eating disorders.
Comprehensive lists of GPs can be accessed in the national directories available on the following websites:
www.icgp.ie www.irishhealth.com www.healthhub.ie
Further information can be found in the following books:
Anorexia Nervosa, A Survival Guide for Families, Friends and Sufferers, Janet Treasure, Psychology Press, 1997 (Chapter 11)
Eating Disorders, A Parents' Guide from the Greater Ormond Street Hospital Eating Disorders Clinic, Rachel Bryant-Waugh and Brian Lask, Penguin, 1999 (Chapter 6)