5 Things I Wish Providers Knew About Eating Disorders

Pittsburgh Dietitian Blog Posts
February 28, 2024

Eating disorders are complex and often misunderstood mental health conditions that can affect individuals of all body shapes and sizes. As a profession that navigates the challenges of living with an eating disorder, we’ve encountered numerous misconceptions and barriers to receiving proper care and support. Here are five things we wish healthcare providers understood about eating disorders:

1. Eating disorders don't discriminate based on appearance

One of the most pervasive myths about eating disorders is that they only affect individuals who are underweight. In reality, people in all sized bodies can have any form of eating disorder. It's crucial for providers to recognize that disordered eating patterns and behaviors are not determined by or recognized by outward appearance. 

2. Eating disorders fall on a spectrum

Eating disorders exist along a spectrum, ranging from healthy and neutral relationship with food all the way to severe and diagnosable according to the DSM-5.  The middle of the spectrum is incredibly tricky and crucial for understanding.  A large portion of people fall in this category: sometimes engaging in disordered eating behaviors, sometimes not, sometimes meeting frequency as outlined by the DSM-5, but not duration, sometimes engaging in various different kinds of behaviors, etc.  These complexities are what make eating disorders so nuanced.  Many individuals may experience symptoms that do not meet the criteria for a specific diagnosis but still significantly impact their quality of life. Providers should be attuned to the various points of this spectrum and understand that each person's experience with an eating disorder is unique.

3. Your Words Matter

Language healthcare providers use and share have a profound impact on most individuals, especially those struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating.  Even seemingly innocuous comments or gestures can be deeply triggering for someone with an impaired relationship with food. It's essential for providers to choose their words carefully and avoid making assumptions about a person's eating habits, exercise routine, or body size. Validation and empathy can go a long way in building trust and fostering a therapeutic relationship. Validate. Validate. Validate.

4. Eating disorders are mental health disorders

Eating disorders are not just about food—they are complex mental health conditions that require specialized treatment and support. They cannot be ignored and expected to disappear. It's crucial for providers to recognize that eating disorders often co-occur with other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and/or more. Addressing the underlying psychological factor(s) contributing to disordered eating patterns is essential for effective treatment and eventual recovery.

5. Proper nourishment is essential for recovery

In order for individuals to engage fully in therapy and make progress towards recovery, they need to be adequately nourished both physically and mentally. Restrictive eating behaviors can impair cognitive function and make it challenging for individuals to implement coping skills and behavioral changes. Providers should prioritize restoring nutritional balance and supporting clients and patients in developing a healthier relationship with food. Any impairment in someone’s relationship with food will impact their quality of life.

Eating disorders are complex conditions that require a comprehensive and compassionate approach to treatment. By understanding the diverse nature of eating disorders, validating individuals' experiences, and addressing the underlying mental health factors, providers play a crucial role in supporting individuals on their journey to recovery. It's time to ensure that everyone receives the care and support they deserve.  

If you or a loved one is seeking care for an eating disorder, please don't hesitate to schedule an appointment with us. You can reach out to scheduling@casespecificnutrition.com to be matched with a dietitian that is right for you.

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