Eating disorders on a nationwide rise, Wiregrass is not excluded

Eating disorders affect millions of people each year, and are one of the deadliest mental illnesses according to research by JAMA.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 4:26 PM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Eating disorders affect millions of people each year. They are one of the deadliest mental illnesses according to past research by JAMA Psychiatry.

A more recent JAMA study shows individuals who have disordered eating are more likely to attempt suicide than those who do not.

Health experts are warning the public about the seriousness of this deadly illness.

Dr. Joshua Klapow is a clinical psychologist and said he has seen an increase in disordered cases across the nation over the recent years.

“The number of teenage girls or young women presenting to emergency rooms across the country doubled during the pandemic,” Dr. Klapow said.

Dr. Klapow said Alabama has not seen any more of a higher increase than what is seen nationwide. He said the rise is across the board.

“While most eating disorders are associated with women and more women than men have eating disorders, men do have eating disorders or disordered eating,” Dr. Klapow said. “They absolutely can have anorexia, bulimia and the like, but the percentage of women versus men is about 90 percent women to about 10 percent men.”

He is working to break down what exactly an eating disorder is so people can learn the signs and symptoms they at times may not be aware of.

“It can be very tricky to sort of point it out because we are as a society that is very focused on health and nutrition and body weight and things like that and so there’s this line that exists between people who are watching what they eat, watching the nutritional content of what they’re eating and disordered eating,” Dr. Klapow said.

Dr. Klapow said there are some tell-tell signs that will tell a person which side of that equation they are on.

“Things like very rigid eating and rigid meaning not just certain foods, but certain amounts of foods. Literally down to the numbers of carrots or peas or the size of the food on the plate,” Dr. Klapow said.

Another one Dr. Klapow mentioned is ritualistic eating.

“Only being able to eat either not just at a certain time but in a certain way,” Dr. Klapow said. “Certain foods that you have to take in, foods that can’t touch each other.”

Other ways of disordered eating include eating alone or not eating in social situations, Dr. Klapow added.

“The final one that we are kind of familiar with, particularly with anorexia, is significant weight loss when there is not an illness and there is not a diet going on,” Dr. Klapow said.

Dr. Klapow said not all disordered eating or eating disorders involve dramatic weight loss, such as bulimia or binge, purge disorders.

As Dr. Klapow mentioned, the nation has seen an increase in eating disorder cases and the Wiregrass is not excluded.

Jessie White is a nutritionist in Dothan and is the founder of Nourished Nutrition Consulting. She said eating disorders can affect any age, even children.

“I’ve seen as early as four years old,” White said. “I’m sure there is younger out there. A lot of times what kids will do is mirror their behaviors towards food off of their parents and if there is an untreated eating disorder in a parent that often can trickle down to the children.”

She gives some advice if your child is experiencing disordered eating.

“Separation of food and emotion and what the body is actually needing,” White said. “I think education is always the best way to start and to really see what the body needs and what you need emotionally.”

This is what White said she typically sees in the Wiregrass area when it comes to disordered eating.

“The different types of eating disorders sometimes we have where people over-restrict their food, kind of demonize certain foods or truly have a fear of certain foods,” White said. “Sometimes we see eating disorders where people might over exercise or some kind of purging behavior after they eat and then sometimes we see binge-eating disorder, and that’s still just as dangerous as the other kinds, but it’s almost like an uncontrolled feeling around food.”

Both Dr. Klapow and White encourage a person who experiences disordered eating to seek treatment from either their primary care doctor or pediatrician.

Click here to learn more about eating disorders.

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