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Eating Disorders: Myths, Realities, and Recovery Paths Explained

Photo credit: reliant medical group

Finding a health professional who truly understands eating disorders is no easy task. And for those who suffer from them, it can be just as hard to avoid the judgments and unhelpful comments of friends, family, or coworkers. This interview with one of the world’s leading experts on eating disorders takes a broom to those old and stigmatizing ideas. It also offers pointers for standing by a Loved One suffering from an eating disorder.

If you have a Loved One contending with an eating disorder, you also have a Loved One contending with the lack of understanding, prejudice, and general cloud of myths surrounding their condition. That’s one of the key messages of this powerful interview with Dr. Cynthia Bulick, Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders and Founding Director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders.

Like substance use disorder, eating disorders are made all the more challenging by our society’s mistaken and outdated beliefs about them. Did you know, for example, that there are at least four distinct “families” of eating disorders? Did you know that your genetic profile can increase your risk of developing an eating disorder while simultaneously protecting you in other ways? Did you know that (as with CRAFT and substance use) family-based treatment for eating disorders has the best, evidence-supported track record of any form of treatment?

If not, don’t feel bad: you’re not alone. Dr. Bulick notes that far too many doctors, nurses, counselors, and other wellness practitioners are as poorly informed, or indeed misinformed, as the general public. Alarmingly, many doctors and nurses still leave medical school believing that eating disorders are fundamentally a choice. In reality, Bulick counters, these conditions “are just as much a choice as getting asthma is or having type one diabetes.”

One more example: “We are terrible at treating anorexia,” says Bulick, noting that after decades of study and treatment, there are no effective medications for the illness. Part of the reason is a longstanding assumption that the disease is strictly a psychiatric condition. The reality, however, is that anorexia is both psychiatric and metabolic in nature, and successful medical treatment requires attention to both aspects at once.

For all eating disorders, however, “leveraging the power of the family” is key. Toward the end of the interview, Bulick describes how her center at UNC works not just with parents (like many other programs) but also with partners, who have often spent months or years wanting to help but fearful of making mistakes. “We give them a playbook, and now they’re part of the recovery process,” she says. “And they love it.”

Here at Allies, we say both, “Sounds familiar!” and “Bravo!

Note: listening to the interview requires a “purchase,” complete with online shopping cart—but the cost at checkout is zero; the whole interview is free.


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