New Canaan Expert Discusses Eating Disorders

NEW CANAAN, Conn. -- Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Feb. 22-28, was recognized by Erin Kleifield, Ph.D., director of the Eating Disorders Program at Silver Hill Hospital, as a serious medical condition that can be stopped.

Dr. Erin Kleifield discusses the seriousness of eating disorders and proactive steps to changing these behaviors.
Dr. Erin Kleifield discusses the seriousness of eating disorders and proactive steps to changing these behaviors. Photo Credit:

Eating disorders are a complex psychiatric illness; we must eat to live — yet 24 million people in the U.S. of all ages and genders struggle with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder and do not have a healthy relationship with food. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. The right intervention strategies can improve the quality of life — even save a life. 

Disordered eating, which often begins in adolescence when social, academic and family pressures are overwhelming, is a way of regulating negative emotions and coping with stress and disruptive life events. Predisposing variables are personality attributes — being self-critical, a high achiever or a perfectionist, for example. 

Genetics and psychobiology play a predisposing role if there is a tendency to like or crave certain foods. Cultural messages, which are often unconscious, are also considered predisposing factors. Precipitating behaviors are things like obsessive dieting or restricting certain food groups. Specific triggering events where disordered eating develops — such as death or illness of a loved one, or weight loss resulting from illness or medical problems — would also be considered precipitating.

Beliefs and attitudes about food, black-and-white thinking, fear of weight gain and overvalued ideas about weight and shape are perpetuating variables. A chemical imbalance can also lead to the development of other co-occurring mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse. 

There are steps parents can take to prevent eating disorders from developing. You may need the help of a professional clinician, but a few suggestions are given below.

  • Try to avoid criticizing yourself or others about weight or shape in front of kids. 
  • Avoid talking negatively about food – “I can’t eat potatoes because they’re carbs” or “That cake will go straight to my thighs.” It’s more important to teach the importance of healthy eating and exercise without references to weight.
  • Compliment children on their talents and accomplishments – a little praise goes a long way especially when it’s well-deserved. 
  • Let your kids know that weight gain and changes to body shape are a natural part of the growing process. 
  • Talk to your kids about their use of social media and what they see on TV. Only 5 percent of American women have the body type that is portrayed in advertising as the ideal size and shape for women.

to follow Daily Voice New Canaan and receive free news updates.