The Dollars and Cents of Eating Disorders

I must admit that I cringe slightly every time I try to think about healthcare from an economics perspective. To me, this comes a little close to putting a dollar value on human beings, which feels uncomfortably post-humanistic to me. Nonetheless, there is no ignoring the ways in which economic concerns factor into policy decisions that drive our human services, including health care.

There are also a number of pragmatic reasons for thinking about the costs associated with illnesses; talking in dollars and cents can make for a convincing argument when seeking funding to do research on a particular illness, for example. The ability to reduce healthcare costs is incredibly compelling in a time of fiscal restraint.

Crow (2014) published a short article about the economic costs of eating disorder treatment. In this article, he highlights some recent studies that have examined factors related to “the economics of … Continue reading →

Clinical Utility of Weight Suppression in Bulimia Nervosa Treatment – Part II

In this post I will continue my discussion on weight suppression in bulimia nervosa (click here to read Part I). Just in case you happen to be reading the posts out of sequence, I will summarize the main points of that entry:

  1. Weight suppression is the difference between one’s current body weight and highest adult body weight.
  2. It has been found that individuals with BN are on average well below their highest historical weights (i.e. they are weight suppressed).
  3. Many studies have consistently found positive associations between WS and the onset and maintenance of BN symptoms.


Because most individuals with BN have undergone significant weight loss, this makes them susceptible to weight regain — much like obese individuals usually regain the weight they have lost. Indeed, evidence suggests that weight suppression predicts weight gain in individuals with … Continue reading →

HW vs. CW: Weight Suppression in Bulimia Nervosa – Part I

HW. CW. LW. GW1. GW2. GW3. UGW.

If you have (or have had) an eating disorder (or dieted and used online forums), chances are you know what those acronyms mean. And if you have browsed blogs written by eating disorder sufferers, chances are you have come across these acronyms too. After all, they are a prominent feature of many such blogs.

If you are lost, I’ll fill you in: the acronyms stand for Highest Weight, Current Weight, Lowest Weight, Goal Weight 1/2/3, and Ultimate Goal Weight (UGW). Unsurprisingly, most individuals with eating disorders, much like dieters, like to keep track of their weight loss — that is, the difference between the highest weight, HW, and the current weight, CW.

Researchers call this difference weight suppression (WSmore specifically, the highest adult body weight) and one’s current weight). It … Continue reading →

Are There Any Meaningful Differences Between Subthreshold and Full Syndrome Anorexia Nervosa?

I see this on a daily basis: patients with subthreshold eating disorders feeling invalidated and “not sick enough.” They are struggling so much, but maybe they still have their periods, or maybe their weight isn’t quite low enough, and so they often (but not always, thankfully) get dismissed by doctors, other healthcare professionals, and insurance companies. Do you think you really need this treatment, maybe you can just focus on eating healthier? You know you are not fat, you are perfectly healthy! Just be happy! Or, Sorry, we can’t cover this psychological treatment because you don’t fit the full diagnostic criteria. 

Why do we draw a line between ‘threshold’ and ‘subthreshold’ at arbitrary numerical criteria?

No doubt numbers are important for medical treatment: someone with a very low BMI might have considerably more physical complications that need to be taken into account during treatment than someone with a not-so-low … Continue reading →

Over-Exercise is Associated With Suicidality in Individuals with Disordered Eating

Last week, I blogged about a study that examined personality traits and clinical variables associated with excessive exercise in eating disorder patients. In that study, 2 out of 5 participants engaged in excessive exercise. Today, I’m going to discuss a study that suggests over-exercise in disordered eating patients is associated with suicide behaviour.

Suicide rates in eating disorder patients are high. One meta-analysis suggested that out of all eating disorder related deaths, 1 in 5 are suicides. (Keep in mind, these numbers are really hard to pin down as they depend a lot on the sample population, sample size, and how the authors did their statistics, among other things.)

Another analysis found that the standardized mortality ratio (ratio of observed deaths in the study sample/expected deaths in the population of the same age but without the disease/disorder you are studying) for suicide in eating disorders was 31 for patients … Continue reading →

Excessive Exercise in Eating Disorders

Excessive exercise (EE) is common among eating disorder patients. Indeed, in the study I’ll write about today, 39% of patients engaged in EE. Previous studies have tried to find psychopathological and personality correlates of EE but the results have been inconsistent. Some studies have suggested that impulsivity and addictiveness are highly correlated with EE whereas others found that anxious and depressive traits were more closely associated.

In a retrospective case series study involving outpatients with AN and BN, Penas-Lledo et al. found higher levels of anxiety and depression… among those who were identified as exercising excessively. The authors claimed that exercise might serve to reduce anxiety and stress in individuals with AN. In a similar study with adolescent inpatients with AN, Holtkamp et al. found that anxiety significantly predicted variance in exercise levels. These investigators proposed that anxiety symptoms in combination with food restriction contributed to increased levels

Continue reading →

Think You Are Not “Sick Enough” Because You Didn’t Lose Your Period? Read This.

Anonymous asked, “I’ve never lost my period. Weight restored I am naturally thin, but even at a BMI of 15 or so I always got my period (although it wasn’t always regularly). This makes me feel like I’m not actually sick because I hear about everyone losing their period.”

eatruncats replied: “To the anon who asked about losing periods: For all the times she worries about not being sick enough because she never lost her period, there are people who lost their periods at BMIs of 18, 19, and 20 who worry about not being sick enough because they never got to a BMI of 15. If you have an eating disorder, you are “sick enough.” Period.

As it stands now, amenorrhea–or the loss of three consecutive menstrual cycles–is a diagnostic criterion for anorexia nervosa. Individuals who have not lost their periods are diagnosed with eating disorder … Continue reading →

Financial Burden of Bulimia Nervosa: Cost of Food, Laxatives, Diuretics, and Diet Pills Adds Up

The financial burden of bulimia nervosa can be substantial, and yet little is known about the monetary costs associated with bulimic symptoms. At least little is known in academic circles – there is definitely a lot of anecdotal evidence floating around the internet. I found just one paper from 2009 by Scott J. Crow and colleagues. I stumbled upon it accidentally, actually. I was searching for articles on the economic burden of eating disorders (treatment cost, productivity loss, etc..) for a post I’m planning, but I thought I’d write about this in the mean time.

It is a short paper but I think it is important because it highlights an often overlooked issue.

The method Crow et al used to evaluate how much money individuals with bulimia nervosa spend on food, laxatives, diuretics and diet pills is simple (keep in mind, this hasn’t really been done before). Essentially, they asked … Continue reading →

Predictors of Diagnostic Crossover and Symptom Fluctuation in Eating Disorders

Symptom fluctuation and diagnostic crossover are common in eating disorder patients. A study by Eddy et al. (2008) – who followed patients over an average of 7 years – showed that crossover between subtypes and full-syndrome diagnoses is very common : of those initially diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, almost 73% crossed over to another diagnosis (between symptoms and to bulimia nervosa). More specifically, roughly 50% experienced fluctuation between subtypes (restricting, AN-R, and binge/purge type, AN-BP) and roughly 35% crossed over to bulimia nervosa (a subset experienced both). Of those initially diagnosed with bulimia, roughly 14% crossed over to AN-BP and of those, 3.91% crossed over to AN-R.

This finding (though, well-known to ED specialists and even more well-known to patients) has important implications for treatment. For example, CBT and anti-depressants seem to have positive results in bulimic patients, but not so much in anorexics. What then, about those that crossover … Continue reading →

EDNOS, Bulimia Nervosa: As Deadly as Anorexia in Outpatients

Eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), the catch-all diagnosis for eating disorder patients that don’t neatly fit into the DSM-IV anorexia nervosa (AN) or bulimia nervosa (BN) categories, is often thought to be less severe. Patients with sub-threshold AN or BN (missing one or two criteria) fall into the EDNOS (a large proportion, perhaps the majority, of patients). The inherent assumption in the word sub-threshold is that the patient is not as sick. Symptom frequency and behaviours are not that bad.

Increasingly, research is showing otherwise (which comes as no surprise for those of us who have struggled with eating disorders).

One study that has illustrated this quite nicely was published in 2009 by Dr. Scott Crow and colleagues in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Given that most ED mortality research has focused on anorexia nervosa, Crow et al wanted to compare mortality (from all-causes and suicide specifically) in … Continue reading →