As a medical professional, you play an integral role in the detection and treatment of disordered eating in your patients. Unfortunately, most people affected by emotional overeating and binge eating disorder withhold important information about their eating behaviors from their doctors due to embarrassment, shame, fear of being judged, not wanting to address a delicate problem, or simply not realizing the severity of their condition.
Thus, it is imperative that medical professionals, such as PCPs, pediatricians, gynecologists, endocrinologists and cardiologists, feel comfortable addressing this serious psychological issue, with physical consequences, with their patients.
The following information is designed to help medical professionals understand what warning signs to look for in patients who may be affected by emotional overeating and/or binge eating, what questions to ask your patients if you suspect disordered eating, and to whom to refer your patients for high-quality, specialized care.
Know the Warning Signs
The first step in helping your patients is to know the warning signs of emotional overeating and binge eating. Consider information from many sources, including your observations of the patient, reports from the patient and/or loved ones, as well as medical symptoms/complications.
Common Observable Signs:
- Consistent increases in weight; maintaining an unhealthy body weight
- Consistent fluctuations in weight at each appointment (e.g., 130 pounds then 145 pounds then 120 pounds) — this may be a sign of an overeat-undereat-overeat dieting cycle in which binge eating often occurs
- Significantly overweight, not accounted for by medical complications such as hypothyroidism, PCOS, type 2 diabetes, or Cushing’s syndrome
- Reports eating healthy foods and normal portions in spite of weight or avoids sharing information about eating habits
- Reports regular, moderate exercise in spite of unhealthy body weight and weight-related medical conditions
Common Medical Complications:
- Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance
- Insomnia, sleep apnea
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Joint and muscle pain
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Kidney disease
- Fertility problems
- Gallbladder disease
If a patient presents with some combination of the aforementioned warning signs, the second step is to ask questions. Don’t be shy about inquiring as to how they feel about their bodies and food; most people affected by disordered eating report feeling relieved when someone finally notices the warning signs and talks to them about it.
Questions to consider include, but are not limited to:
- How do you feel about your body?
- What percentage of your day do you spend thinking about food and/or your body?
- Are you happy with your eating behavior?
- Do you ever feel out of control when eating?
- Do you ever eat to the point of feeling sick or uncomfortably full?
- Do you feel ashamed of how you eat?
- How often and for how long do you exercise?
- What types of things are you doing (or have you tried in the past) to control your weight?
Know How to Respond
As you ask these questions, it is important to know how to respond to your patient in a way that is supportive, caring, and free of judgment. During your discussion with your patient, it would be helpful to try and follow these five guidelines:
- Create a warm, safe environment for your patient to share the shameful details of their disordered eating.
- Continue to probe and ask questions; because of their own shame, it is very unlikely that the patient will offer up details on his/her own without your prompting.
- Objectively provide education on the relationship between the patient’s disordered eating and his/her current physical symptoms.
- Thank your patient for being brave enough to share this very personal information with you. Convey your genuine concern for their well-being, and reassure them that you will provide support in getting the proper care they deserve to fully recover.
- Avoid comments about the patient’s body or weight, such as, “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder,” or “You look good.” No matter your intention, a patient with disordered eating will likely interpret your comment as a negative judgment about their body (e.g., you’re fat, you’ve gained weight).
Lastly, if it seems as though your patient is affected by disordered eating, providing referrals to specialists who are qualified to treat these deadly illnesses is recommended.
Like any complex disease, disordered eating requires specialized, multi-faceted care from a team of skilled professionals. Depending on the severity of the illness, the treatment team will likely include some combination of the following professionals: psychotherapist, dietitian, psychiatrist, family and/or couple therapist, group therapist, weight management trainers and various medical professionals (including you, the referring physician).
If your patient is hesitant to seek help, encouraging him/her to schedule a consultation session to “break the ice” and to see what treatment options are available, is oftentimes helpful.
We Are Here to Help!
The treatment specialists at The Healthy Weigh Out, and its parent organization, A New Beginning, are here to help support you in your efforts to detect — and address — eating disorders in your patients, including:
- Emotional Eating
- Binge Eating Disorder
- Night Eating Syndrome
- Diabetes Self-Management
Towards this goal, members of our team will meet with you and/or your staff to provide helpful information regarding the detection, treatment, and resources available to help your patients with disordered eating.
Additionally, our team of seasoned clinicians is ready to serve your patients with compassion, skill, and commitment. We welcome the opportunity to consult with prospective patients who may be interested in pursuing treatment, and together, we will create an individualized treatment plan that will support their path to recovery!
For more information, please contact us at 480-941-6999.