Despite the common misconception that eating disorders affect primarily young women, prevention and awareness toward these diseases starts by recognizing that they do not discriminate by gender or age, said C. Alix Timko, PhD, director of the graduate psychology and Eating Disorder Research programs at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
As part of the upcoming National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Feb. 23 to March 1, Dr. Timko emphasized that an estimated 25 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, a nd nearly 25 percent of those suffering are male.
“Eating disorders are not personal choices, diet fads or phases; they are severe and can be fatal,” said Dr. Timko, an international researcher who has written and spoken extensively on this topic. “In fact, anorexia nervosa has one of the highest overall mortality rates and the highest suicide rate of any psychiatric disorder.”
The American Psychiatric Association recognizes four primary eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and eating disorder not otherwise specified. While these disorders seem vastly different due to the difference in symptoms, individuals and their families face similar psychological, physical, and emotional challenges. Researchers have not established a single cause of an eating disorder, but they have identified numerous biological, social, psychological, and interpersonal factors that contribute to its development, said Dr. Timko.
There is no guaranteed way to identify if a friend of family member is at risk for eating disorders; however, there are a variety of easy-to-overlook signs that might help spot an eating disorder — or disorder in the making — sooner, including:
- Dramatic weight loss and refusal to eat
- Retreating to the bathroom for long periods of time after meals
- Excessive exercise
- Poor body image and negative comments about oneself
Under the direction of Dr. Timko, USciences’ Eating Disorder Research Program studies the development, treatment, and prevention of eating disorders. This program also aims to train new clinicians in the most evidence-based treatments for adolescents and adults with eating disorders. The University also offers students suffering from eating disorders counseling from therapists with a focus on health psychology; however, these services are not affiliated with Dr. Timko’s research program.
A variety of studies investigating eating disorders, body image, and eating behavior are currently underway by students and faculty at USciences, including Acceptance-Based Separated Family Treatment for Adolescents with Eating Disorders, Understanding Differences in Body Image in Women of Different Ethnic Groups, Psychosocial and Cultural Factors Influencing Craving, and Understanding Eating Behavior in College Students.