In honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 27 – March 5, 2023), I took the opportunity to discuss a few key points on eating disorders with my colleague Dr. Anna Flores, DCN, MScN, CNSc. You do not need to be an expert on eating disorders to help prevent or recognize one of these potentially deadly illnesses. Dr. Flores shares some important insights in our discussion below.
5 Questions for Dr. Anna Flores
1. What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening health conditions. They are characterized by persistent disordered eating behaviors that negatively impact the sufferer’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Their ability to function in critical areas of life is also affected. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, binge-eating disorder, and other specified feeding and eating disorder.
2. Who is at risk for an eating disorder?
An eating disorder can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or socio-economic status; however, some risk factors are:
- Having a close relative with an eating disorder or other mental health condition.
- History of dieting behaviors, including “clean eating” focused.
- Type-1 or insulin-dependent diabetes.
- Some personality traits such as perfectionism, inflexibility, and being highly rule- or order-driven can contribute to eating disorder development.
- Having body image dissatisfaction and overemphasizing weight, shape, and size when evaluating self-worth.
- Weight stigma. Weight stigma is discrimination or stereotyping targeted toward individuals because of their weight, shape, and size.
- Teasing or bullying. 60% of eating disorder sufferers reported bullying as contributing to the development of their eating disorder.
3. Can someone simultaneously have an eating disorder, substance use disorder, or other mental health condition?
Those who suffer from an eating disorder may also struggle with substance use disorder and other co-occurring mental health disorders.
- One study of people hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 97% had at least one co-occurring mental health disorder, with 94% suffering from a mood disorder.
- Eating disorder sufferers are eight times more likely to have current OCD and nine times more likely to develop OCD in their lifetime.
- Up to 50% of individuals with eating disorders use alcohol or illicit drugs.
4. How can we prevent eating disorders?
A variety of factors give rise to an eating disorder. Therefore, effective prevention requires a systematic effort to change the circumstances that initiate, predispose, promote, perpetuate, or intensify these diseases. Some prevention strategies may be to learn more about eating disorders and the experience of those who suffer from them and to support programs designed to change cultural attitudes and public policy around weight stigma and eating disorders. That is what Eating Disorder Awareness Week is all about.
5. Can eating disorders be treated?
Eating disorders do not heal on their own. They are complex disorders that require psychological, nutritional, and medical treatment. Sanford Behavioral Health Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorders (SCTED) has a full continuum of care for eating disorder treatment. Please call 844.448.7700.