National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Dr. RobertsThis year, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week falls from February 26 to March 1. To spread awareness about this life-threatening condition, which impacts around 9 percent of Americans, Steward sat down with Angela L. Roberts, MD, FAAFP, a Family Medicine Physician with Trumbull Regional Medical Center in Warren, OH.

What are the most common eating disorders?

The three most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. These disorders focus on misguided attempts to lose weight or maintain a lower-than-normal body weight, which leads to dangerous eating behaviors.

Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is characterized by extreme food restriction and an intense fear of gaining weight. Individuals with anorexia often have extreme weight loss, which can lead to malnutrition and even death.

Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) is characterized by eating excessive amounts of food in a short period of time, followed by certain behaviors to prevent weight gain. These behaviors may include self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives. Individuals with bulimia often maintain their weight.

Binge-eating disorder is characterized by eating large amounts of food in a short period of time. It is NOT followed by any type of purging behavior. However, it can leave the individual with feelings of guilt and shame. These feelings can then lead to periods of extreme food restriction, which then increase the urge to binge, leading to an unhealthy cycle.

How common are eating disorders?

Anorexia is more common in females than in males. The lifetime prevalence of anorexia is 0.3–1.5% in females and 0.1–0.5% in males. Bulimia is also more common in females than in males. Binge-eating disorder is the most common of all eating disorders and can affect up to 3% of the population at any given time.

What are some warning signs to look out for in loved ones?

Some common warning signs of an eating disorder include significant fluctuations in weight, a preoccupation with food, weight, and dieting that supersedes all other activities, a withdrawal from social eating activities, performing “food rituals,” and acid-related dental problems, including cavities and erosion of enamel. If you notice these habits or patterns in yourself or your loved ones, be sure to reach out to a physician who can offer guidance. Suicide is a leading cause of death for patients diagnosed with an eating disorder, with anorexia patients being 18 times more likely to attempt suicide. With this risk, it is important to seek immediate help for you or a loved one.

Can you walk readers through what treatment options might look like?

Treatment of eating disorders is multifaceted and includes a team approach. This includes your family doctor, a mental health professional, and often a dietician. Common treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, which is necessary to address the distorted views of body image, and medication, which can help manage underlying depression and anxiety that may be associated with the eating disorder. Additionally, nutritional counseling can help teach a healthy approach to food and weight, and hospitalization might be necessary in more extreme cases.


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