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Future Health

Eating disorders: A Closer Look at Obesity

October 16, 2013 

Not all eating disorders have the same outcome. In fact, lumping them under a single name has caused some confusion and some conflict in how to approach the topic as health professionals try to educate people about symptoms and treatment. 
A main source of conflict has been that individuals suffering from anorexia or bulimia tend to be extremely thin, while those suffering from binge eating disorder tend to be at best overweight and at worst obese.
This is why those who focus on anorexia and bulimia insist on taking the focus off counting calories and banning high-sugar foods and drinks from schools, while those who focus on binge eating are more likely to embrace the general anti-obesity education campaigns.
These differences also account for the fact that those who focus on anorexia and bulimia have worked in the tradition of the psychological professions, and those who focus on binge eating have worked in the tradition of the medical profession.
But all that could change. The American Medical Association earlier this year classified obesity as a disease. Also earlier this year, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders listed binge eating disorder as a mental condition for the first time.
Health professionals believe that classifying binge eating as a mental disorder could bridge this gap. This could be good news for the more than 30 million people who suffer from eating disorders, whose advocates say also suffer from the weight stigma in American culture.
Recent research has shown that nearly half of adolescents with eating disorders had a history of obesity, but because they were not extremely thin their symptoms usually were not recognized or treated.
Individuals who suffer from eating disorders share psychological components even if their physical characteristics and symptoms vary. For example, both suffer from low self esteem, respond to their environments, overly emphasize appearance and body size, and face weight stigma. Now treatment facilities are more likely to treat underweight and overweight sufferers together rather than in separate groups.
Behavior, not weight, should be the focus, they say. Healthy food environments would help both groups.
For more information on eating disorders and obesity, see our training and videos here