Station InitiativesWellness Wednesday

Actions

Hope for those with eating disorders

Posted at 5:31 PM, Mar 22, 2023

How do you feel about the mirror? How about the scale or a measuring tape? If those dominate your self-image and you change your habits because of them, you may have an eating disorder.

March is National Nutrition Month, a time when dietitians encourage people to learn more about healthy food choices. This includes education around eating disorders and their serious effects on health.

“What I tell family and what I tell those who have loved ones who are suffering with eating disorders is you don't have to be the dietician...you don't have to be the psychologist. That's why we're here.”

Jen Wilke is a dietician nutritionist specializing in eating disorders and supervising other clinicians in the Intermountain Health System.

So who is at risk of eating disorders?

Wilke said, “That's a great question, everyone, everyone is at risk of eating disorders. So, eating disorders affect all ages, ethnicities, races, socioeconomic status, all sexual orientations, and even all weights and shapes and body sizes."

Nine percent of Americans, nearly one in ten, will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetimes. About twice as many women as men, and no matter the symptoms, the disease can be fatal.

“I think a lot of people think that most people eating disorders, if they die, it's because of malnutrition. But it's actually suicide. And eating disorders are the second most common mental health disorder that results in death. So that's behind opioid related deaths,” said Wilke.

Anorexia is a mental illness whose sufferers obsess about weight and restrict their eating or purge so much they can become dangerously undernourished.

Bulimia involves binging and then fasting or purging in some way.

People with binge eating disorder tend to eat too much too fast – not because of hunger…and their self-esteem suffers afterwards.

There are more types of eating disorders…with some similar warning signs including:
- Intense focus on weight loss, dieting, and controlling food.
- Social withdrawal
- Frequently checking the body and weight
- Extreme mood swings

Physically you might notice weight fluctuations, digestive system complaints, dizziness, difficulty concentrating or sleeping and issues with teeth, skin, hair and nails.

A lot of this is noticed first by family or other loved ones.

“I think that's usually the first route that that individuals take is they reach out to the provider and say, Hey, I have a daughter, I have a son or a wife, or a husband that suffering from an eating disorder,” said Wilke.

Early intervention is best because people often showed disordered eating before they have a diagnosable eating disorder. Treatment isn’t easy but it works.

“This is such a debilitating disorder; it affects so many people. And it can seem very hopeless, not only for the patient for the individual suffering, but for their family. And I have seen countless eating disorder patients recover and thrive if they seek help... It's a daunting task, it takes a village, but they can absolutely recover,” said Wilke.

To meet with an eating disorder expert or receive nutrition support, visit Intermountainhealth.org.