Why So Many Eating Disorders Go Undetected

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The image that comes to mind when many people think of an “eating disorder” (ED) is a young female with anorexia or bulimia. But in reality, there is a vast spectrum of ED diagnoses, behaviors, body types, and people who “fit the bill.” The narrow view of the disease that prevails in our society can be extremely harmful, as it often results in a treatable disease going unnoticed.

A recent publication points to the persistence of this image as one reason people struggling with EDs aren’t referred to specialty programs as often as they should be. Although symptoms may be apparent during primary care appointments, these signs aren’t always recognized as an eating disorder. Missed signs and symptoms occur with every type of ED, but are a particularly common with respect to binge eating disorder (BED). A patient presenting with obesity, insomnia, and depression may be treated for their individual symptoms, but the BED diagnosis often goes overlooked.

The stereotypes that create these blind spots are perpetuated in many ways, but in recent years, there have been moves toward a more inclusive understanding of EDs. Many in the ED community are pushing for changes like widespread education to healthcare providers and broader research sampling to correct biases that have resulted in incomplete knowledge about EDs in lower treatment-seeking populations (e.g. male, older, obese). News stories and blog posts have also increasingly addressed the unrepresentative view of ED, marking a more comprehensive idea of “what an eating disorder looks like.” (See examples here, here, and here.)

It’s important that we continue to challenge conceptions of ED and to be mindful that symptoms can occur in people from all walks of life. If you suspect someone has issues with food, see our self-assessment quiz and information on warning signs, and referring a patient. For additional questions or to make an appointment, call 1-888-364-5977.

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