What to Do with an Eating Disorder Diagnosis
Eating disorders are a set of fairly common illnesses, affecting tens of millions of Americans at some point during their lifetimes. They can have severe–and potentially even fatal–side effects, so it is important that they get addressed sooner rather than later. While eating disorders can be devastating both mentally and physically, they can also be treated.
Diagnosing An Eating Disorder
The National Eating Disorders Association explains the process behind diagnosing an individual who potentially has an eating disorder in a nonemergency situation. The initial steps in diagnosing an eating disorder involve patient assessment, medical examination, and laboratory testing. These assessments tend to help a healthcare professional figure out the level of care a potential patient needs; ensuring that patients are receiving the correct treatment is the initial step towards recovery.
A healthcare professional will likely ask a patient (and perhaps their loved ones) a series of questions; these are the types of questions they may ask:
- About the patient’s history; this will include questions about their eating patterns
- If there is a family history of obesity, eating disorders, substance abuse, or other psychiatric disorders
- If the patient has any other known medical health-related conditions, such as anxiety or depression
- About the patient’s attitudes regarding exercise, eating, and their appearance
- About the individual’s nutritional, social, medical, and psychological functioning
Physicians often see other medical issues arise from those suffering with eating disorders; these conditions could arise from over-exercise, binge eating, purging, or self-starvation. A physician will generally evaluate:
- A patient’s dental health, particularly if they suspect the patient self-induces vomiting
- Any laboratory tests performed
- Orthostatic blood pressure
- A patient’s pulse and body temperature
- A person’s physical health, including their body mass index (BMI), weight, height, skin health, any hair loss, evidence of self-injury, cardiovascular function, and peripheral vascular function.
- If the patient is a child or adolescent, a physician may look into their growth chart
A doctor may also wish to perform a variety of laboratory tests and other forms of bloodwork in order to correctly diagnose an eating disorder and analyze what level of care an individual will require. These tests will likely look into:
- Blood count
- Blood sugar levels
- Any chemicals present in the urine
- Liver functioning
- Kidney functioning
- Electrolyte levels (in order to determine if the patient is dehydrated, perhaps from purging)
- They may also perform an electrocardiogram (ECG), to make sure that the patient’s heart is beating properly
If You or a Loved One is Diagnosed with an Eating Disorder…
If you (or a loved one) is diagnosed with an eating disorder, don’t fret–there are a variety of options available. It is important to remember that the right type of treatment depends on the individual; some treatment approaches may work for some, but not for others. There is no one size fits all approach.
There are also several helplines you can contact; trained specialists and volunteers can help you deal with your diagnosis or provide support if a loved one is diagnosed. In fact, the National Eating Disorders Association offers four ways you can contact them:
- Via instant messenger. They are available Monday through Thursday from 9:00 AM until 9:00 PM Eastern Time, and Fridays from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM Eastern Time.
- Via phone call (800-931-2237). Representatives are available from 11:00 AM until 9:00 PM Eastern Time Monday through Thursday, and Fridays from 11:00 AM until 5:00 PM Eastern Time.
- Via text message (800-931-2237). Their pilot hours are from Monday through Thursday, 3:00 PM until 6:00 PM Eastern Time.
- In case of crisis, you can text “NEDA” to 741-741 and you will be put in touch with a trained volunteer.
If you try to contact anyone at the National Eating Disorders Association out of hours, you can also leave a message and they will get back to you.