No matter where you are...
It's Time to Take Eating Disorders Seriously!
"I want to help, but I don't know what to do."
Step 1: Educate Yourself.
Knowledge is empowering. The best and first thing you can do to help someone with an eating disorder is to educate yourself so that you can effectively advocate to help get your loved one into treatment.
Step 2: Don't delay.
Early identification and intervention is key, but is often delayed due to societal misunderstandings and a lack of training for primary care health professionals. The longer an eating disorder goes undetected or untreated, the more the patient suffers and the harder it is to treat them.
Step 3: Take action.
Determined action on the part of others to help a patient into treatment and through recovery is not always welcome, but often required and never unwise. In fact, it may be the most caring, loving, and important thing you can do to help.
Step 4: Stay involved.
Treatment that isn't working can be worse than no treatment at all. Stay involved with the treatment plan and trust your instincts. Caregivers often know when something is wrong, and patients need their loved ones advocating for change when treatment is not working. Not all treatments work for all patients and, while the road to recovery is long, no immediate or continued progress is a sure sign that the treatment plan needs to be changed.
More about diagnosing eating disorders...
Print Resource: "DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: Coming to Terms with an Eating Disorder Diagnosis"
"How serious are eating disorders and what do they have to do with the brain?"
Eating disorders are biologically based illnesses, not choices. Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness with an estimated 10% of patients dying from complications of the illness.
The human brain is "wired" to respond with a complex series of chemical responses to hunger, fasting, negative energy balance, nutritional deficits, and other forms of malnutrition. The Minnesota Starvation Experiment demonstrated that inadequate food intake can cause and worsen the serious mental disturbances that are symptomatic of eating disorders.
Genetic differences among individuals lead to variations in brain responses to malnutrition, and put some people at a higher risk of developing the disordered thinking and behaviors that we see in eating disorder patients. Resistance to treatment is one of the most serious neurobiological symptom of these disorders, and is not an excuse to delay medical evaluation, nutritional interventions, or entry into an effective treatment program.
Print Resource: "PUZZLING SYMPTOMS: Eating Disorders and the Brain"
"Why are families so important to the treatment process?"
Caring for an eating disorder patient can require 24/7 support. Families can learn to provide the unconditional love, caregiving skills, and vigilant observation necessary to monitor patient progress and keep recovery on track. Families have long-term incentives to find and provide the best care for their loved ones. Familes may not be experts on eating disorders, but they are the experts on their loved ones and have valuable intuition that can guide treatment decisions.
More on What Parents CAN Do...
"Why is food medicine?"
Malnutrition can be a medical emergency. Serious health consequences of malnutrition include electrolyte imbalances, muscle wasting and osteoporosis. These conditions can lead to sudden death by heart attack, or organ failure. Adequate and sustained nutrition is required to restore depleted muscle and nutrient stores, and to restore brain chemistry and metabolic processes to a healthy state. This process often takes a year or more to reverse damage and restore healthy fuctioning of body and brain processes. Malnutrition can occur at any weight and "re-feeding" is the process of restoring a healthy mental and physical "state" of which weight is just one component.
More on the Role of Nutrition...
Print Resource: "UP TO THE PLATE: The Importance of Nutrition to Understanding and Treating Eating Disorders"
"What does the new science tell us about how to treat eating disorders?"
Advances in technology have provided researchers with valuable new insight into how our brains function. Neuroimaging has recorded significant differences in brain function between normal individuals and those suffering from eating disorders. In addition, genetic sequencing has helped uncover areas of interest in the genome linking eating disorders and other mental illnesses. It is believed that genetics and epigenetics plays a 50-80% role in determining a person's risk for developing an eating disorder.
This information tells us that eating disorders are complex bio-psycho-social illnesses and require a multi-faceted treatment strategy. The results of recent clinical trials have indicated that effective treatment needs to work towards normalizing physical, nutritional, behavioral and psychiatric health in addition to addressing potential co-morbid conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or depression. In other words, you can't just talk someone out of having an eating disorder any more than you can talk someone out of having diabetes or cancer.
More on Evidence-based Treatment approaches...
Print Resource: "PORT IN A STORM: How to Choose a Treatment Team for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder in the U.S."
"Is recovery possible?"
Yes! The goal of eating disorder treatment should always be full recovery: living life free of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. There is always hope, even for patients with chronic illness, but the best path to recovery is early intervention and firm and unyielding progress toward full medical, emotional, and cognitive health. Although they are extremely serious brain illnesses, eating disorders can be successfully and fully treated.
More on Defining Recovery...