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Is it an eating disorder?

Last Modified: 5/22/2018

Obsessive thoughts about food intake, a lack of control over consumption, an intense fear of weight gain, low self-esteem. While we might assume it will be easy to spot trouble in our own eating habits or those of a loved one, that isn’t always the case. Joann Hendelman, PhD, MA, BSN, RN, FAED, CEDS-S, CEDRN, Clinical Director of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, helps us define the most common conditions and next steps for treatment.

What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are serious and persistent disturbances in eating behavior, such as extreme reduction of food intake or severe overeating, having a negative impact on health. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders are widespread, currently affect approximately 30 million Americans. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all combined psychological disorders.

Who is most likely to get an eating disorder?
Eating disorders can happen to anyone, of any age, any race and any gender. No real cause has been definitively established; however, there are several contributing factors that may lead to the emergence of an eating disorder. Contributing factors may include:

  • Biological factors:
    • Eating disorders often run in families. The risk of developing an eating disorder is 50-80% determined by genetics
  • Social factors:
    • Many individuals feel unrealistic pressures to obtain the "perfect" body, fueled by the constant influx of images of perfection and narrow definitions of beauty
  • Psychological factors:
    •  Eating disorders often occur in individuals with other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Interpersonal factors:
    •  A history of abuse; being teased for size or weight; traumatic life events; and difficulty expressing feelings and emotions may also contribute to eating disorders

Do all eating disorders need to be addressed?
Identifying and treating eating disorders can be difficult because they can go unnoticed for a significant amount of time. Once recognized, the conversation is often met with denial, leaving the disorder untreated. If an eating disorder goes undetected and/or untreated, the nutritional impact can harm the heart, digestive system, bones, teeth and mouth, and lead to other diseases and in some instances death.

What do you do if you suspect a loved one has an eating disorder?
If you suspect that you or someone you know has developed an eating disorder, do not deny that a problem exists and try to get specialized, professional help as soon as possible. Learn about eating disorders and do not be afraid to talk to someone about your situation. Help is available and recovery is possible.

For assistance or more information, call the Parkview Behavioral Health Help Line at (260) 373-7500 or (800) 284-8439, anytime, 24-hours a day. Experienced specialists are available to guide you to the appropriate level of care – or resources – for your situation,

“Eating disorders can occur at any age,” Dr. Bohnke said. “I provide care for numerous clients who have some type of eating disorder. It is far more common than many people imagine.  Unfortunately, individuals/families are often reluctant to talk about what is going on. The fear of discussing what is occurring can create a feeling of isolation and frustration. I encourage anyone who is dealing with an eating disorder or concerned that a family member may be experiencing an eating disorder to talk with their family doctor about their concerns.  The community has some wonderful resources and providers who can help.”

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