Home » Eating Disorders » Q & A with Eating Disorder Specialist Sari Fine Shepphird: Part 2

Q & A with Eating Disorder Specialist Sari Fine Shepphird: Part 2

One thing you want to avoid with adult friends and loved ones is a power struggle about recovery. While you can encourage your loved one, criticizing, blaming or berating them for not taking recommendations is probably doing them a disservice. Patients are likely already doubting themselves and feeling like a failure. Criticism can serve to set them back rather than help them along.

Also, loved ones should avoid commenting about their own weight. I’ve seen kids who’ve made progress in recovery go home to see their parent is on a diet or is being picky with food. This reinforces what the patient has worked so hard to unlearn. Having your own healthy body image can be a means for supporting a loved one who is in recovery.

Another important thing is for loved ones to find support for themselves. Studies show that having a loved one with an eating disorder can be just as difficult if they had cancer or some other serious, chronic illness. This can cause personal and marital stress, financial difficulties and jealousy among siblings. There is no shame for parents to be in therapy themselves. Therapy is a supportive place where you can gain strength and tools for managing your life.

Q: You mention in your book that anorexia isn’t all about food and weight; that these are symptoms of underlying issues. What are some of these underlying issues?

A: Although the symptoms of anorexia largely surround food and eating, the truth is that at its core, anorexia and other eating disorders do not solely have to do with food. Often we find that people with eating disorders are experiencing underlying emotional distress, relationship or psychological conflicts, difficult life transitions or past trauma. Eating disorders can be part of an overall picture of struggle in a person’s life. When combined with genetic and biological factors, these struggles can sometimes be a precursor to eating disorder symptoms. For some people, anorexia serves as a complex distraction from other painful, seemingly unmanageable feelings or life events. Part of the recovery process from anorexia is learning other, more healthy ways of coping with life’s challenges.

Q: We’re only recently discovering that anorexia occurs in men and older women. What are some key points about anorexia in these populations?

A: Anorexia does occur in males! There is a common stereotype that anorexia is a female illness; however, that is not the case. We know that 10% to 15% of anorexia cases are diagnosed in males, and those are just the cases that go reported. Experts feel the rate may be significantly higher; however, many men feel a greater stigma about eating disorders, so they may not seek treatment. When they do, they will unfortunately find that there are far fewer treatment programs available to men than to women. Some co-ed programs do offer specially designed treatment “tracks” that address uniquely male concerns, but there is a need for many more such programs.

Male athletes have a higher reported rate of eating disorders than the general population, due in part to the belief that weight loss is a necessary requirement for peak athletic performance in their sports, and a higher rate of anorexia has also been reported in homosexual and bisexual males.

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We know from recent research that eating disorders occur across the lifespan, not just among young women, as many may presume. Body image dissatisfaction is fairly stable across the age span, and many of the same risks for eating disorders in younger women can be precursors for older women as well.

While health care professionals may be less likely to suspect an eating disorder in an older woman, the risks are real nonetheless. Factors such as growing public awareness, social pressure to be thin and an aging population of “image conscious” baby boomers may be some of the contributing factors for more cases of eating disorders among older women. And challenges such as divorce, childbirth, widowhood, menopause, chronic dieting and other age-related changes are examples of later-life events that may represent an increased vulnerability for the onset of anorexia at a later age. Complications of eating disorders can be greater for an older person, so it is important for older men and women to see a doctor soon after symptoms appear.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about anorexia or eating disorders in general?

A: One of the main things that more people need to realize is that eating disorders are serious, often debilitating medical and psychiatric illnesses. Many times we do not realize how serious these illnesses are. I don’t think it’s been said enough how high the death rate is from eating disorders or how debilitating the complications can be.

Also, sometimes people think that anorexia and bulimia are the only forms of eating disorders. However, there are also non-classified eating disorders, which are just as serious. In fact, someone can die from a short-term eating disorder. One of my colleagues lost her daughter to bulimia after just one year of symptoms. You don’t have to have an eating disorder for five to seven years in order for it to be serious.

Unfortunately, because of the media, eating disorders sometimes seem as though they are almost encouraged and admired. Yet this is unfortunate as they’re serious, devastating illnesses that need to be treated. A person can lose their health, their family, their motivation for living and ultimately their life.

Check out Part 1 of the interview here.

Q & A with Eating Disorder Specialist Sari Fine Shepphird: Part 2

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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2019). Q & A with Eating Disorder Specialist Sari Fine Shepphird: Part 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from
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Last updated: 18 Mar 2019 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Mar 2019
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