As promised, this week’s post is a continuation of last week’s compilation of insights related to eating disorder awareness, treatment and recovery.
Never put a child on a diet. At a basic level, diets encourage calorie restriction and labeling foods as “good” and “bad,” and rarely result in sustainable weight loss. A diet can trigger an eating disorder in a susceptible child or teen, particularly those with a family history of eating disorders. A pediatrician can be an important ally if a child’s weight is changing outside the norms of the standard growth charts. They can refer patients to eating disorder experts when necessary, and also help parents and guardians enact healthy lifestyle choices.
Over-exposure to popular culture can lead to body image issues and contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Many of the images and messages we see through television, movies, magazines and the internet encourage the “perfect body” ideal, which is unrealistic and in some cases impossible to achieve. Remember, eating disorders have sociocultural underpinnings. Our experience of the world through cultural expectations and social interactions and the resulting feelings of anxiety or inadequacy can influence the development of these diseases.
Professionals—like patients, families and the general public—need eating disorder education as well in order to effectively diagnose and treat these illnesses. Professional organizations like the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp) and the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) are dedicated to connecting and supporting medical and mental health clinicians working with the eating disordered patient population. Eating disorders conferences for professionals are also available to provide this important information to improve effective identification of eating disorders and expand access to care.
Quitting eating disordered behaviors often requires treatment and insights from several providers, each specializing in a different area. The involvement of various disciplines to help patients safely interrupt restriction, bingeing, purging and/or over-exercise is called multidisciplinary treatment. Psychiatrists, therapists, dietitians, internal medicine physicians, pediatricians, nurses and social workers are commonly involved in eating disorder treatment.
Resources are available to help patients, families and healthcare professionals learn about eating disorders. After all, knowledge is power when confronting these complex diseases. A new tool catalogues most available eating disorders content—including articles, books, videos and more—and allows users to search by keyword. Visit the Eating Disorders Information Gateway to learn more about eating disorders and how to support recovery.
Statistics show that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. In fact, the mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females ages 15-24 years old.* These startling mortality statistics underscore the importance of awareness, education and treatment.
Therapy is an important part of addressing an eating disorder, as maladaptive patterns of thought drive restricting, bingeing and purging behaviors. While each treatment approach is unique, individual, group and family therapy can be beneficial in the recovery process. Research has shown the effectiveness of several therapeutic approaches in the treatment of eating disorders, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Alternative therapies leveraging art and movement can also serve an important therapeutic function, allowing patients to explore thoughts and feelings that may be too painful to address with words alone.
Understand that binge eating disorder is a mental illness; in fact, it was recently added as an official eating disorder diagnosis in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V). Even though binge eating disorder affects as many as 3.5 percent of American women and 2 percent of American men, it’s not well understood, resulting in widespread misdiagnosis and under-diagnosis. Binge eating disorder is characterized by compulsive, out-of-control episodes of eating followed by shame, guilt and depression.
Values can guide eating disorder recovery. Values help us identify what is important to us, and for many people struggling with an eating disorder, their illness is actually preventing them from living their values and achieving their goals. Values work can be beneficial when integrated into eating disorder therapy to support sustainable recovery.
Women represent approximately 90 percent of the eating disordered population, and anorexia and bulimia in particular are often thought of as “women’s illnesses.” As a result, men and boys are often misdiagnosed with their friends, families and healthcare providers attributing weight loss and body image issues to other causes. Eating disorders can and do occur in males, and many treatment centers offer tracks, groups and resources to address recovery issues that are specific to men and boys.
X-rays, bone density scans, lab work and other objective medical evidence can help patients understand the serious physical impact of their eating disorder behaviors and motivate recovery. For example, showing a 26-year-old patient with anorexia her DEXA scan, which shows how her prolonged nutrition deficiency resulted in the bone density of an 80-year-old woman, helped her to understand the seriousness of her eating disorder because of the physical impact it had on her bones.
Young people are at the highest risk for developing an eating disorder, with research showing that 95 percent of eating disorders develop between the ages of 12 and 25.** Parents, guardians, teachers and coaches should be especially aware of the common signs and symptoms of these illnesses, and help connect them to specialized treatment resources.
Z…Well, I made it through the entire alphabet and now I’m stuck. Rather than stretch to offer wisdom that starts with this obscure letter, let me leave you with this thought: Eating disorders are very serious diseases. They’re surprisingly common, yet not well understood by the general public or healthcare community. This lack of understanding can result in misdiagnosis and delays in seeking appropriate care. Be proactive, and don’t lose hope. Eating disorder recovery is possible and likely with intervention from experienced experts.
* American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 152 (7), July 1995, p. 1073-1074, Sullivan, Patrick F.
** Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), The Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), offices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.