Is the Doctor in? Eating Disorders Training Amongst Medical Professionals — Part 1

Something that has often shocked and, frankly, appalled, me is how little training exists for those at the front line of eating disorder service delivery. I’m talking about people like family doctors, teachers, coaches, and others who might act as key gatekeepers for eating disorder services; those who don’t make eating disorders the focus of their practice but who likely encounter people with eating disorders as a part of their work life.

When I hear horrible stories about doctors shrugging off symptoms of eating disorders because the person presenting to the office does not “look like they have an eating disorder,” I want to cry. When I talk to teacher friends about the lack of built-in training around eating disorders (sometimes they have sought out opportunities to enhance their mental health awareness, but these don’t tend to be built in), I wish I had more to offer them. When I … Continue reading →

Disclosure and Pathways to Treatment in Eating Disorders

We hear a fair bit about the length of time it can take to access eating disorder treatment. Delays are particularly distressing as the evidence points to better outcomes for those who receive timely care for their eating disorders (e.g. Treasure & Russell, 2011). We know about some of the potential barriers to care for eating disorders, including the lack of specialized services, the stereotypes and stigma that can impede formal and informal help-seeking, and the financial costs of seeking care not always covered by insurance. However, we know less about when people with eating disorders disclose their struggles, who they disclose to, and how this impacts their path to care.

When I was searching for articles related to treatment access for eating disorders, I came across a preliminary study published in 2012 by Gilbert and colleagues investigating disclosure of eating disorders and subsequent pathways to care. Because … Continue reading →

Not So Fast: Is There a Connection Between Religious Fasting and Eating Disorders?

I’ve always wondered about how being encouraged to fast for religious reasons might impact those who are vulnerable to eating disorders and those who already have eating disorders. I can’t imagine it would be easy to be around others who were fasting in the name of religion while struggling with an eating disorder. Equally, I can certainly see the dangers of participating in fasting for those who are predisposed to eating disorders.

Despite not being religious myself, however, I understand that fasting is important to some people who subscribe to religions that encourage the practice. So, how might we balance the potential dangers of fasting with the freedom of religious observance? And, what is the impact of religious fasting on individuals with eating disorders, or those developing eating disorders?

In this post, I’ll highlight some of the main findings from 2 studies about religious fasting and eating disorders: one quantitative … Continue reading →

Pride Before a Fall: The Intertwining of Pride and Shame in Eating Disorders

Is there a link between eating disorders and shame? What about pride? Can understanding these emotions help us to understand how eating disorders develop, and how they are maintained? In reviewing literature for my specialization paper, I stumbled upon a qualitative study by Skarderud (2007) about the role of shame in eating disorders. I found the article quite interesting, so I fired up the “where was this cited” tool on my university library database and uncovered a wealth of studies looking at shame, pride, and eating disorders.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll comment on Skarderud’s study, also bringing in a longitudinal study by Troop & Redshaw (2012) that looks at general and bodily shame.

Shame and Pride

Skarderud, who uses a phenomenological approach in his study (meaning that he is trying to unearth the particularities of shame for those who experience it) sees shame … Continue reading →

Of Binge Eating, Age, and Distress: Child-Adolescent vs. Adult Onset Binge Eating

I’m embarrassed to say that my knowledge around binge eating disorder (BED) is sorely lacking compared to my understanding of the prevalence, correlates, treatments for, experiences of, and recovery from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and OSFED (I still prefer “EDNOS,” but I’ll go with DSM 5 here). I don’t think this knowledge gap is uncommon; I’ve seen BED mentioned as a passing note in many an article, despite a general awareness that BED is relatively common. In order to begin to fill this knowledge gap (allow me a little self-indulgence as I fill this knowledge gap “out loud,” here), I thought I’d do a little reading and writing around BED. I also look forward to engaging in the comments, if you’re more savvy than I in this realm.

We know that BED is relatively common; general prevalence ranges from 0.7-4% (Latner & Clyne, 2008). In certain samples, … Continue reading →

Beyond Thinness: Men, Muscularity and Eating Disorders

Eating disorder research tends to focus on girls and women. Which makes sense: eating disorders disproportionately affect women. However, it isn’t just the research on eating disorders that focuses on women: it’s the entire history of eating disorders as a diagnosis. The first descriptions of anorexia nervosa by William Gull and bulimia nervosa by Gerald Russell were both based primarily on observations of female patients (although Russell did include two men). Therefore, it’s possible that our basic construction of eating disorders is based on a specifically female experience.

One example of this is the focus on weight loss as a cardinal component of eating disorders (barring binge eating disorder). This is often attributed to the pursuit of a “thin ideal” created by our culture; however, this thin ideal doesn’t necessarily apply to men. Whilst women encounter pressure to be thin, evidence suggests that men encounter pressure to be more muscular—a … Continue reading →

Whose Culture is it Anyway? Disentangling Culture and Eating Disorders – Part 5

We’ve begun to scratch the surface of the vast and growing literature on cultural context and eating disorders in the previous 4 posts in this series. Of course, as I reflected the other day, there could (maybe should?) be a blog solely devoted to this topic- each time I read another study in this area, it pulls me down the rabbit hole into another related area.

In what will be the last part of this series for now, I’ll review a study by Bennett, Sharpe, Freeman, and Carson (2004) on the request of Lisa LaBorde (via Twitter). The authors wanted to learn more about the presence (or lack thereof) of eating disorders in Sub-Saharan Africa, a context that they describe as less driven by the thin-ideal. This was, they suggest, the first thorough exploration of anorexia in sub-Saharan Africa, and so might reveal more about whether and how … Continue reading →

Whose Culture is it Anyway? Disentangling Culture and Eating Disorders – Part 4

The more I write about culture and eating disorders, the more I want to know. I keep finding more articles to add to the mix; I know I’m far from the first to be interested in how culture and eating disorders intersect, and for that matter, what counts as “culture.” Still, this has been a fascinating exploration so far! In case you’re curious, this is to be the second last post in the series, for now at least. There will be one more after this, about eating disorders in Ghana (from a Twitter request). In this post, I will continue to explore the “culture boundness” of eating disorders by looking at a study relating to eating disorders in Africa. In this study, Le Grange, Louw, Breen & Katzman (2004) illustrate how eating disorders have emerged in Caucasian and non-Caucasian adolescents in South Africa.


Le Grange and … Continue reading →

Making Connections: Peer Support and Eating Disorder Recovery

I feel like a broken record when I say that we continue to lack an evidence base for most “alternative” forms of support for eating disorders. As I’ve noted in prior posts, just because something is not evidence based does not mean it does not work for anyone; often, an evidence base is established when researchers can secure enough funding to run a randomized-controlled trial (RCT) that would act as evidence.

Even when an RCT has been run, it is hard to say that one form of treatment is best for all. People with eating disorders, like people in general, respond to different things, based on personal preference, history, culture, age, gender, and so many other factors. It feels a bit simplistic to write that, but I sometimes think we need a reminder of that fact!

Ultimately, and unsatisfyingly, it can be hard to predict what will work best … Continue reading →

Treating Severe Anorexia Nervosa in the Community

Can treatment for severe anorexia nervosa be delivered safely in a community setting? According to a recent paper by Calum Munro and colleagues (2014, open access), the answer is yes.

In 2001, a systematic review by Meads, Gold, and Burls found that inpatient treatment is not more or less effective than outpatient treatment for individuals with AN. Of course there will always be patients who will require inpatient care, but given the high cost, lack of clear efficacy, and known risks, it is important to ask if there are better options, particularly for a subgroup of individuals who may not need or may not benefit from inpatient care.

In their paper, Munro et al. describe a program that they’ve developed for treating individuals with severe AN in the community. The program is called the Anorexia Nervosa Intensive Treatment Team (ANITT) service. It is one … Continue reading →