Why should I care?
Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Up to 20% of individuals with anorexia will die as a result of their illness (NEDA). However, early intervention results in better outcomes.
Common questions from parents and family members who think a loved one is struggling:
“I thought s/he was dieting and I allowed it, am I to blame?”
No, you are not to blame. There are many factors that contribute to an eating disorder such as genetics, cultural, environment, and personality. I once heard eating disorders explained as the “perfect hurricane;” every storm is different but they all have common elements. As far as we know right now, there is not a single variable that makes an eating disorder.
“My daughter/son/sister/brother say they are fine, shouldn’t I believe them?”
If you suspect something, trust your intuition. As a family member you are with the individual most of the time and can detect those small and large changes. Our bodies are capable of miraculous things, and often people with an eating disorder can adjust and adapt to the medical consequences (e.g. heart palpitations, fatigue, and fogginess) and truly believe they are feeling “okay.” Therefore, your observations are important.
“My doctor, nurse, or school professional said my child is fine. Wouldn’t they know?”
Not all professionals are trained in the same way. Eating disorders are a specific disorder and require treatment by specifically informed professionals. Ask your healthcare professionals about their experience with eating disorders, or get a second opinion from someone in the community you know who has eating disorder experience – especially if your gut is saying something is wrong.
“Can my son/husband/brother really have an eating disorder?”
Yes, according to a 2007 study by the CDC, about 1/3 of eating disorder cases are male (NEDA). However, this number might be higher due to the lack of males seeking treatment. A possible reason males seek help less often might be due to shame based on an old assumption that eating disorders are a “female disorder.”
“My relative hasn’t lost weight, why should I be concerned about them?”
There are several different types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating, etc. Due to the nature of each of these, some of these eating disorders include losing weight, but some include weight fluctuations and weight gain. All of them have negative medical consequences. A person’s health is more than their actual weight, including how their organs are functioning, results of blood work, mood, and ability to think clearly.
“I don’t understand, why can’t he or she just eat?”
Eating disorders are often noticed due to a person’s “strange relationship” with food and weight changes. However, eating disorders have components of perfectionism, obsessions, compulsions, control issues, and changes in mood. For some, the eating disorder can become a negative coping skill to manage changes in mood or negative thoughts about the self. Consequently, eating disorders are not just about “food,” and stopping an eating disorder may feel terrifying as it has become their “best, worst friend.”
To schedule an appointment with a therapist contact Birmingham Maple Clinic at (248) 646-6659 or visit www.birminghammaple.com .