Anorexia Memory Loss
March 25, 2013 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Can a anorexia cause loss of memories from before the starvation began?

I was talking with a high school friend who went through an eighteen-month period of anorexia in her early twenties. She has little memory of that period which has been attributed to the malnutrition and understands those may be lost forever.

However, she has also lost a great many of her memories from before the anorexia. She was wondering how much of that pre-anorexia memory loss is recoverable? That is, can the starvation permanently wipe out memories from before (which sounds a lot like brain injury) or is that more likely to be emotional repression?

She is very interested in recovering whatever memories are available to her but has no idea how to proceed. Suggestions?

If you are going to say "therapy" please be more specific. Thanks.
posted by trinity8-director to Health & Fitness (5 answers total)
I cannot stress enough how important it is for people dealing with eating disorders to find therapists who have extensive experience with eating disorders. Is there an eating disorder clinic in your friend's area? I would start there and see if they accept outpatient clients or if they know therapists who can help.

Memory issues associated with anorexia are really, really common from what I understand. I can only speak to my experience with anorexia--I had shockingly little ability to retain information when I wasn't eating. In fact, I remember the day I was able to recall four-digit numbers, which didn't happen until I was a year into recovery. But that's one person's experience. My memory has gotten a lot better, but that isn't to say that it's not different for other people.

My point is that a bunch of unqualified strangers (myself at the top of the list) are not going to be able to say whether those memories are recoverable. Definitely talk to a professional whose background is in eating disorders. They handle this kind of thing all the time and will not think it is strange at all.

Best wishes to your friend.
posted by corey flood at 10:08 AM on March 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

She is very interested in recovering whatever memories are available to her but has no idea how to proceed. Suggestions?

There is, unfortunately, no X=Y here. Nobody, not even the most experienced neurologist in the world, can come in here and say oh, she should jump up and down 7 times twice a day and poof, the memories come back.

Brain damage comes in so many forms, many of which we know almost nothing about. Therapy may be of some limited use, but she should see a brain specialist since she is having a cognitive processing problem. She should get a referral to a neurologist, ideally one experienced in malnutrition, metabolic, and endocrinological disorders.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:32 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Neurologist. We're talking about potential brain damage. This kind of physical brain damage is beyond the ken of therapists and psychiatrists. Best of luck to your friend.

(Not that your friend shouldn't also see a therapist trained in eating disorders.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:47 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Eating disorders are often comorbid with dissociation and trauma. Both of these things can affect memory. So can regular old depression, which has a relationship to hippocampus volume, etc. A neurologist will be able to look at the brain structures involved, like the hippocampus. They may not be able to give an easy answer. Brain exercise and patience may help, but you can't force yourself into recollection.
posted by decathexis at 11:20 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a large black out period in my twenties from brain damage caused by malnutrition as a result of Anorexia and also some pretty bad PTSD. EMDR worked pretty well for me in recovering some of what happened. Though it was more the experience memory rather than the photo memory, if that makes any sense. Finding a therapist that deals with trauma and EMDR could be helpful.
posted by picklesthezombie at 2:12 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

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