Why an eating disorder is for life and not just for Christmas.

Eating disorders have very poor outcomes and even if you recover there may be long-term health consequences of which you were unaware.

The statistics are unreliable and tend to focus on those who have had in-patient treatment – not the many, many people who may be unable or unwilling to access medical help.

It is estimated that half of young sufferers are cured. For others the condition persists for decades as a long-lasting behaviour making the body less resilient to other medical problems.

A proportion will be cured then relapse during times of stress. And another group will develop eating disorders later in life.

So even if you start eating normally what are the physical consequences of eating disorders?

The main risk is osteoporosis – as bone density is not built up in the younger years. For post-menopausal women this means an increasing danger of fractures and consequent hospitalisation.

Basically you are starting from a lower level and will be losing bone density quicker than others.

Amenorrhoea – loss of periods – means lower oestrogen which also protects your heart. Meaning that you can be skinny with a diet very low in fat and be diagnosed with high cholesterol – which is both surprising and deeply annoying! This means you are at a higher risk of heart disease – particularly if you have also been controlling your appetite through smoking.

If your reproductive health does survive an eating disorder – your baby will use all your nutritional reserves – but be at risk of low weight or miscarriage. As the mother you can experience hair and tooth loss, if you are continuing to restrict your diet.

And how about your poor brain? You will probably have already experienced problems in concentration and cognitive function – fuzzy thinking. But you may have also lost brain matter – which cannot be replaced.

So what to do if you are in recovery and are only now beginning to realise the damage you have done to your body. First – please don’t beat yourself up – you have probably done more than enough of that.

Second – be completely honest with your medical professionals – they may not understand, this may be the first time they have encountered this behaviour – remember they are specialists – a cardiologist knows about the heart, not the psyche.

But what you really need to do is look after yourself – physically and mentally – do what the medics tell you – this may mean a regime of pills and certainly trying to eat different foods. It also means sleeping well and exercising – not hours in the gym – but just living a healthier life. You may not be able to heal the damage, but you can build a healthier body and a happier life.

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