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Empty Nest Syndrome

Q: When I moved out of my parents' house last year, I left an empty nest. Since then, I've noticed on my visits home that my mother is getting thinner and thinner. She insists it's just my imagination, but Dad told me that she has started a new early-morning exercise routine and her appetite isn't what it used to be. Is it possible that my 48-year-old mother could have anorexia? I thought it was a teen thing. I never saw any signs of this in the past.

Dr. Donnica: From your level of concern, I'm guessing that your mom probably didn't need to lose weight in your opinion. While anorexia is more common-and more obvious-in young women, it can certainly affect men and women at any age, even the elderly. If your mom is now exercising regularly, that's probably a good thing, and may reflect her feeling that she now has more time (and energy) to focus on her own health needs. She may not actually be losing weight, but she may appear thinner because she is toning and developing her muscles. While "empty nest syndrome" usually refers to a form of depression, it is not as common as once thought, but it should still be taken seriously.

Decreased appetite may be a symptom of depression, although starting a new exercise regimen rarely is. There are also many medical causes of unexplained weight loss, from overactive thyroid to diabetes to various cancers. If you are really concerned, you may want to ask your mom if she has actually weighed herself lately or when her last medical check-up was.

Click here for more information about depression or other mental health issues.

Created: 6/21/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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