The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1099: How to Recognize and Overcome Eating Disorders (Archive)

Eating disorders are common and can affect people of any age or gender. Learn how to recognize the problem and how it can be treated.
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How to Recognize and Overcome Eating Disorders (Archive)

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What could be more natural than eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full? That simple approach is far from easy for many people. Hunger and eating get disconnected in eating disorders. How can these complex problems be recognized and treated?

How Common Are Eating Disorders?

Many people think of anorexia nervosa as the classic eating disorder. But while anorexia is potentially deadly, it is the least common. The most common eating disorder? Binge eating, in which the person feels out of control. Tendencies towards these problems can set in surprisingly early, affecting young children as well as teens.

Growing older does not confer immunity to eating disorders. Middle-aged people and even geriatric patients may develop difficulties matching what they eat to what their bodies need. Such eating problems have both metabolic and psychiatric dimensions.

What Can Be Done to Combat Eating Disorders?

Current treatments involve the entire family or both members of a couple. The idea is to develop a unified strategy to re-nourish the child, if the patient is a child. Developing good support and coping strategies that work at the moment of high-risk stress is essential in treating adults.

This Week’s Guest:

Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, FAED, is Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders in the Department of Psychiatry and Professor of Nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She holds the first endowed professorship in eating disorders in the United States and is founding director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders. In the photo, Dr. Bulik is standing behind Joe and Terry.

Dr. Bulik is author of Eating Disorders: Detection and Treatment; Runaway Eating: The 8 Point Plan to Conquer Adult Food and Weight Obsessions; Abnormal Psychology (co-author); Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop; The Woman in the Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look Like with Who You Are; and Midlife Eating Disorders. Her most recent book is Binge Control.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99. To get the free mp3, choose it on the pull-down just above the “Add to Cart” button.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I would think that Over Eaters Anonymous might have been mentioned. This organization has been around for years, is free, and has meetings all over the world. It addresses every type of eating disorder and helps the person figure out what they are suffering from in a non-accusatory or judgmental manner. Then with a support system they learn to not be a victim of their addiction and to deal with the situation in a healthy way.

I thought the show was fair (compared to “good,” “bad,” etc.). After saying that anorexia was the least common eating disorder, the most time was spent on it. I was also disappointed with the author describing someone who weighs 150 pounds as “overweight” and therefore not necessarily obviously anorexic. So-o-o-o-o many prejudices included in that statement. I get the larger point that not necessarily bone thin people can present with anorexia, but 150 lbs is within the normal BMI for taller women and men.

Thank you, Dr. Bulik, for sharing your expertise – I think you opened many people’s eyes to the realities of eating disorders.

I want to call attention to the host’s conflation of “overweight” and eating disorders. I know there is a lot of rhetoric about the “obesity epidemic” and treating obesity as a disease, but I want to call out how _unhelpful_ and potentially _damaging_ that viewpoint is on treating eating disorders. I am glad Dr. Bulik reinforced that weight should not be the primary metric for measuring health.

I hope one day we can prioritize health over the number on the scale; it is my guess we will have fewer cases of eating disorders, and a healthier population!

Can one have a food addiction? Not so much “bingeing” as just overeating especially at night and in the middle of the night?
Did not seem like she touched on this aspect of food illness.
Your shows are always great!

@K There are mixed opinions on “food addiction”. Food does trigger some of the same brain circuits as drugs do. We also can’t simply abstain from food!

What you’re describing sounds like Night Eating Syndrome. There hasn’t been a lot of research on this pattern of eating yet. There are so many variations of eating disordered behaviors that most people don’t fit neatly into one diagnosis, but they are just as valid as any labeled variety!

I was hoping to hear the guest’s thoughts on individuals who binge purge – is that considered anorexia? How can someone help a friend or relative that they suspect does this???

Bingeing and purging are typically signs of bulimia nervosa, not anorexia nervosa. Bulimia is just as serious an eating disorder as anorexia, and requires professional mental health treatment. Your friend or relative would need to be willing to participate in such treatment, but you could certainly raise the issue with them.

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