Patient Story: Adolescent Medicine
When She Could Not Care for Herself, UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center Did
At age 14, what seemed like a harmless diet for Allison Indyk, turned out to be much more. While many teens struggle with weight and body image, what Allison was experiencing was something drastically different. She became obsessed with losing weight – fanatically tracking and restricting calories, over-exercising, and becoming intensely focused on all things food and body related. Once an outgoing young woman, Allison began isolating herself from social activities, which drew concern from her peers and family. A perfectionist by nature, she extended her unhealthy need for flawlessness into other areas of her life, including her body.
After members of her swim team expressed worry, Allison and her family finally reached out for help. It was not long before she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Allison underwent treatment at a residential program during her sophomore year of high school and steered through her remaining years of high school without major incident, before moving away from home to attend college at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts.
“Things had been going okay,” explained Allison, “But the new environment, new people, difficult emotional experiences and new stressors became too much during my junior year of college, and I started having a really hard time again. Life had become unmanageable and I needed help.”
As Allison’s health declined, her therapist referred her to UMass Memorial Medical Center for care, and put her directly in touch with Suzanne Allen, CPNP, and Ann Sattler, MD, chief, Division of Adolescent Medicine at the Medical Center. Allison began visiting Suzanne weekly for checkups to keep an eye on her weight and vital signs, perform any necessary testing and lab work, and monitor her mental wellness. As her condition worsened, Allison sometimes increased her visits to twice a week and took comfort in knowing that her team at UMass Memorial would be an unwavering source of support.
Allison credits the care she received at UMass Memorial for saving her life and knows that, while she is managing very well on her own right now, any advice or resources she may need in the future are only a phone call away. “For me, and I think for a lot of people with eating disorders, there’s a lot of shame around relapsing,” explained Allison. “Whenever I came back, I was never met with that shame. I was met with the same care and compassion I always received. Relapsing in and of itself is not a failure as long as you continue to seek help. Continuing to seek that help, and refusing to settle for the suffering of my eating disorder, is ultimately what has allowed me to thrive in my recovery today.”
Anorexia nervosa – an eating disorder in which a person develops an unhealthy fear of weight gain and life-threatening eating patterns as a result of biological, psychological, social and interpersonal factors. Eating disorders in general most commonly affect young women in their teens to early twenties (although men and women of all ages can be affected) and can look very different from person to person. Is it important to note that there is not one specific image of an eating disorder, and while some sufferers may look excessively thin and malnourished, many others do not. Likewise, while some living with an eating disorder may feel quite ill and recognize the severity of their condition, oftentimes, many others feel that they are not “sick enough” to require intervention. If you feel you or your child may be struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to your primary care physician for an assessment or contact the Division of Adolescent Medicine at UMass Memorial Medical Center at 774-442-2882.