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Recognizing and Overcoming an Eating Disorder

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 27 – March 5


Dr. Desire Christensen, Aspirus Behavioral Health Psychiatrist

In the United States, 28.8 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorderare a complex psychological condition that affects behavior, thoughts and attitudes related to food, eating and body image. They are the second deadliest mental illnesses and can affect anyone of any age, race or gender.

Eating disorders are not always obvious. Those with this condition often remain secretive about their behavior, and many go years without people knowing. “An eating disorder can develop gradually and you may first observe personality and behavior changes. Due to their secretive nature, eating disorders are often hard to spot in the early stages,” said Dr. Desire Christensen, psychiatrist with Aspirus Behavioral Health in Stevens Point.

Common early warning signs include:

  • Dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Frequently talking about food, weight, or body image
  • Excessive exercising or use of measures to “offset” food intake
  • Purging, restricting, or compulsive eating
  • Abuse of diet pills, diuretics, or laxatives
  • Denial of disordered eating despite concerns of those around them
  • Isolating during mealtimes, eating in secret, or hiding food
  • Medical complications, such as amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), fainting, hair loss, osteoporosis, dental problems, heart problems, or other serious symptoms due to nutritional deprivation

Eating disorders seriously impact someone’s health and can have severe and potentially life-threatening consequences, especially if left untreated.

Discussing eating disorders can be difficult, especially with someone you are close to.

Here are tips on how to talk to a loved one with an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA):

  • Set a private time and place to talk
  • Use “I” statements
  • Rehearse what you want to say
  • Remove potential stigma
  • Avoid overly simplistic solutions such as “just stop” or “just eat”
  • Encourage them to seek professional help
  • Be prepared for negative reactions

“Some eating disorder sufferers are glad that someone has noticed they are struggling. Others respond differently. Some may become angry and hostile, while others may brush off your concerns or minimize potential dangers”, says Aspirus Behavioral Health Specialist. “Both of these responses are normal. Reiterate your concerns, let them know you care, and leave the conversation open.”

It can be frustrating to see a loved one suffering and refusing to seek help. However, the NEDA reports that many individuals now in recovery from an eating disorder say the support of family and friends was crucial to them getting well.

With proper care, full recovery from eating disorders is very possible. The first step is to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider, who may refer you to a behavioral health specialist. To learn more about the behavioral health and counseling services available with Aspirus Behavioral Health, visit




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