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What You Need to Know About Eating Disorders

Did you know?

  • 28.8 million Americans experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

  • Research shows that eating disorders have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Less than one in five individuals with an eating disorder ever receives treatment.

  • Every 52 minutes, someone dies as the direct result of an eating disorder.

This week, I’m proud to participate in National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAwareness Week), a yearly campaign to educate the public about eating disorders and to provide hope and support to struggling individuals and their families. For 2022, the theme is See the Change, Be the Change. Together, we can see the change by acknowledging the prevalence, diversity, and stigmas within the eating disorders field and be the change through advocacy and awareness efforts.

Three Common Misconceptions About Eating Disorders

For today’s blog post, I want to focus on three common misconceptions about eating disorders and dig deep into the truth about this mental health condition.

1. Eating disorders are a choice.

People do not choose to have an eating disorder, nor can someone or something be blamed for the development of this condition. They are actually complicated medical and psychiatric illnesses that often co-occur with other mental health problems, like depression, anxiety, social phobia, and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People who don’t understand these complex issues often expect their loved ones to "just eat" or “snap out of it,” which is impossible.

Current research suggests that eating disorders are linked to both genetic and environmental factors. There are biological predispositions that make individuals vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. There are also environmental triggers, like physical illnesses, religious fasting, childhood bullying, and other life stressors, that increase someone’s risk. Plus, societal factors, like the media’s portrayal of a thin body ideal, can play a direct role in the development of an eating disorder.

2. Anorexia nervosa is the only serious eating disorder.

We often see anorexia portrayed on screen, leading many people to believe that it’s more concerning than other eating disorders, including bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder (BED), Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). That’s simply not the case. Researchers found that the mortality rates of patients with bulimia and OSFED were very similar to the high rates seen in individuals with anorexia. During the study, nearly 1 in 20 people died as a result of their illness.

Additionally, individuals who force themselves to vomit and/or abuse laxatives have a significantly higher risk of having a heart attack due to electrolyte imbalance. Excessive exercise can also put an unhealthy strain on the body and lead to sudden death.

The Truth About Eating Disorder Treatment

3. Eating disorders are chronic conditions that don’t respond well to treatment.

While each plan should be customized to the individual, clinicians have found several effective approaches when it comes to eating disorder treatment. Some patients respond best to individual psychotherapy, while others need to focus on family-based therapy. Although cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often the first line of treatment, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a specific type of CBT, has been shown to be very promising as well.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder or struggling with disordered eating behaviors, please seek help. For additional information and potential treatment options, you can explore this topic further on my blog.

Reach out to Dr. Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, CEDS at Coral Reef Counseling, and schedule a free consultation or telehealth appointment today.


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