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New Study Highlights the Dangers of Eating Disorders

March 01, 2016

A new study highlights the serious risks of eating disorders, especially when patients are discharged from treatment too soon.

The study, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, found that people with anorexia had a greater risk of early death compared to the general public. They were five times more likely to die, mainly due to natural causes associated with the disease.

People with bulimia also had an increased risk of premature death, but these rates weren’t as high as patients with anorexia.

The study showed that several risk factors played a part in these statistics. People who were older when they developed an eating disorder, those with poor social skills and a lower BMI at the time they were hospitalized, people with multiple hospitalizations for the disorder and those who were discharged from a hospital program too early all had an increased risk of premature death. 

Researchers said the connection between leaving a hospital program too early and an increased fatality risk shows there’s a greater need to support patients throughout the treatment process.

I completely agree.

Dealing with an eating disorder doesn’t end during recovery. It’s a lifelong battle. “Sustained recovery requires careful planning and a team approach,” according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

Eating disorder recovery does not end once the patient has adopted healthy habits. It is key to take steps to maintain progress and prevent relapses. Support is crucial. I often help patients who are recovering from eating disorders, working with them on eating a healthy diet and getting all of the nutrients they need. It’s important for patients to find a professional counselor or dietitian who specializes in anorexia or bulimia. A dietitian can help with learning and establishing healthy eating habits to incorporate into everyday life.

For many people with eating disorders, recovery happens more than once. It takes time to readjust to healthy eating patterns and to cope with the everyday challenges people encounter once they re-enter their normal environment.

When I work with patients, my priorities during their recovery are to help them stick to a regular eating schedule and to avoid skipping meals. Planning ahead for meals and snacks helps them accomplish this.

For some patients, following a very specific meal plan is beneficial. These meal plans aren’t specific in terms of calorie limits, but instead focus on a balanced diet. I also tell patients to avoid strict dietary rules, such as forbidding certain foods. It’s important for them to shift the focus from what they can’t eat to what they can and to focus on nutritious foods that will give them energy and strength. Also, listening to your body’s natural hunger and satiety cues may be valuable at later stages of recovery, once a regulated eating pattern is established.

Unfortunately, many people struggle with eating disorders for several years. Recovery is a gradual process, so it’s crucial for patients to set small, yet achievable goals. These goals could be to have a family meal without feeling anxiety or guilt about the food you consumed or to go out to dinner with friends and not be overwhelmed with worry about the calorie count of menu items. Countless studies have shown that when we break down big goals into smaller ones, they are more attainable.

As many as 30 million Americans have an eating disorder, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders. Overcoming these disorders is an ongoing challenge for many people, especially during recovery. The recovery process isn’t just physical, it’s also mental. However, there are things that can help patients achieve sustained recovery, including sticking with your eating disorder treatment plan and surrounding yourself with people who support you and want to see you healthy and happy.