What Can I Do?
Timely Intervention is critical for individuals with known or suspected eating disorders. When concerned about someone with a possible eating disorder, remember that:
1. Individuals with eating disorders may not acknowledge that they are ill, and/or they may be ambivalent about accepting treatment. Remember that denial of the seriousness of the disorder is a symptom
. Individuals may minimize, rationalize, or hide eating disorder symptoms and/or behaviors. Their persuasive rationality and competence in other areas of life can disguise the severity of their disorder. Outside support and assistance with decision-making will likely be necessary regardless of age.
2. Most often parents/guardians are the frontline help-seekers for children, adolescents, and young adults with eating disorders. Trust their concerns
. Even a single consultation about an individual’s eating behavior or weight/shape concerns is a strong predictor of the presence or potential development of an eating disorder.
3. Diffuse blame
. Help families understand that they did not cause the illness; neither did the individual with the eating disorder choose to have it. This recognition facilitates acceptance of the diagnosis, referral, treatment, and minimizes undue stigma associated with having the disorder.
4. Monitor physical health
. Individuals with eating disorders will need close medical monitoring including vital signs and laboratory tests. Individuals with eating disorders should be regularly monitored for acute and chronic medical complications. At times, acute medical stabilization will be necessary. Assessments should be interpreted in the context of physiological adaptation to malnutrition and purging behavior. Healthcare providers need to remember that physical exam and laboratory tests may be normal even in the presence of a life-threatening eating disorder.
5. Consider psychiatric risk
. Always assess for psychiatric risk, including suicidal and self-harm thoughts, plans and/ or intent. Up to half of deaths related to eating disorders are due to suicide. While some degree of anxiety and depressive symptoms are common on presentation, proper diagnosis of other mental health comorbidities over time is also suggested as adequate treatment can improve outcome.
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