HomeAddictionEating Disorders and Addiction: Expert Interview Series with Crystal Karges of Eating Disorder Hope

Eating Disorders and Addiction: Expert Interview Series with Crystal Karges of Eating Disorder Hope

Substance abuse

Crystal Karges is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating.

We recently asked Crystal for her insight on eating disorder recovery and the relationships between disordered eating, mental health, and substance abuse. Here’s what she shared:

Can you tell us about the mission behind EDH Network?

Eating Disorder Hope’s mission is to offer hope, information, and resources to individual eating disorder sufferers, their family members, and treatment providers. The organization began with the help and advice of colleagues, professors, and other organizations specializing in eating disorders. Eating Disorder Hope was founded in January 2005.

What is the prevalence of eating disorders in the U.S. today? How is the population affected?

It is estimated that in the U.S. alone, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. The number of individuals who struggle with some form of disordered eating or lesser-known eating disorder is likely much higher, as these are often under-reported.

What are the common causes of eating disorders? What’s at the root of the disorder?

Eating disorders are complex psychiatric illnesses influenced by a variety of factors. Research has shown plausible causes are both biological and environmental and may include genetics, neurobiology, psychosocial factors, family history, the experience of trauma, and the presence of other co-occurring disorders, such as depression and/or anxiety.

For individuals with eating disorders, what are the common roadblocks to recovery?

Eating disorders are isolating diseases by nature, and many of the abnormal behaviors associated with eating disorders are often done in secret. In addition, our culture continues to stigmatize mental illnesses, including eating disorders, so there is typically deep feelings of shame in openly talking about a struggle with these diseases, preventing a person from reaching out for help. Many individuals who are seeking help may run into issues regarding treatment, such as lack of funds or insurance coverage for the necessary treatment required.

What have you found are the most effective ways to treat eating disorders? What resources should individuals who hope to recover seek?

Because of the complexities of eating disorders, comprehensive treatment that involves multi-discipline specialties, such as a therapist, psychiatrist, dietitian, physician, etc., has been shown to be most effective for improving the prognosis of an eating disorder sufferer.

What do you think are the most common misunderstandings surrounding treating eating disorders?

Many people assume that eating disorders are simply related to a “food problem,” but in reality, there are far more complexities involved.  While on the surface, it may seem as though someone is having an issue related to how they eat, they are likely dealing with an incredible turmoil inside. Focusing on fixing the “food” issue is not a means of treating the eating disorder, and this is a common misunderstanding.

What can individuals do to improve their recovery process? What should they avoid?

Perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of recovery is being honest and staying connected to support. Because of the nature of the eating disorder, it is easy to go through the motions or fall back into patterns of isolation. Having accountability and consistent support can help an individual stay committed to their recovery process and continue progressing forward.

Where do eating disorders and addictions intersect? What commonalities do they share?

Research is showing that eating disorders and addictions may share common root causes that influence compensatory behaviors. For example, a person with certain personality traits and biological susceptibilities conducive to addictive behaviors is more likely to develop abnormal eating behaviors associated with an eating disorder. Similarly, a person with an eating disorder has an increased risk of developing an addiction or abusing substances.

What are the challenges of treating someone who is recovering from both an eating disorder and substance abuse? How should treatment be adapted to address both issues?

Eating disorders and substance abuse co-occur more commonly than may be recognized, and it is easy for one disorder to be “masked” behind the other. Many individuals who are suffering from both may not appropriately address the co-occurring issues in treatment, which can serve for more complications down the road. Specialized treatment centers that address and focus on co-occurring substance abuse and eating disorders is fundamental for being able to heal and recover, and this allows for some of the special challenges that may be encountered, such as detoxing, medical stabilization, and more.

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