Understanding the Importance of Intervention in Disordered Eating

Contributed by: Susanne Johnson, CAI Interventionist, Lead Advocate for HeroesInRecovery.com

Happy family playing on the beach at the day timeIn order to live longer and healthier, most people see their physicians for regular checkups. They have blood work to check cholesterol in order to prevent artery problems and heart attacks. They check blood sugars to head off diabetes. They also have age designated mammograms, bone density tests and colonoscopies. However, one diagnosis that often remains undetected for years and years, is eating disorders.

If you or your loved one suffers from anorexia nervosa, it typically becomes obvious at some point due to abnormal weight loss. People suffering from bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder often hide their disorder due to feelings of shame, guilt and stigma. Many maintain a normal weight range so their disorder is difficult to visually detect.

Only people very close to someone affected by this disease may see the signs. The loved one may decide to do nothing out of insecurity on how to address this issue with the sufferer. But doing nothing may cost lives.

Eating disorders are the most fatal form of addiction, and the most difficult one to spot, costing more lives than Heroin claims in this country. Often people with eating disorders live doing their job, having their family, and telling no one about the problems they are facing every single day.

Warning Signs

woman-doctor-and-patient-blood-pressureIf you see in your loved one warning signs like frequent visits to the bathroom after meals, frequent use of laxatives, excessive workout after high calorie meals, night eating, yellowing of palms (from excessive eating of carrots, so called safe foods), fuzzy thin hair on arms and legs (it’s an attempt from an under nourished body to keep warm), empty hidden food containers throughout the home, or disappearance of food during night hours, etc., you should get active and help your loved one to get out of this vicious cycle.

Eating disorders are not a choice, they are a serious illness, which affect people of all gender, race, age, body shape and weight. A full recovery is possible, but the affected person is usually unable to make the first step on their own.

If it’s your loved one, spouse, child, or someone close to you, it may be difficult to talk about your suspicion. Watch for a short while and when you see regular signs and symptoms of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder then talk to your loved one without placing shame or blame. Use lots of love, and refer to the signs and symptoms as the reason for your concern, never blame someone that is struggling.


People with eating disorders have the highest suicide rate in our country. It is very hard for a sufferer to be confronted that someone found out about his/her problem. Contact a professional to help you with this intervention. There are trained interventionists available, and you may contact me for a referral near you.

Most loved ones have frequently tried the easiest form of intervention by saying ‘stop eating so much’ or ‘you must eat better’. Unfortunately, as good as their intentions, it remains unsuccessful because of the addictive behavior of the eating disorders. The person struggling cannot ‘just eat’ or ‘stop eating so much’.

Sick woman sleeping in bedroomJust like he can’t stop breathing, if you would tell him to do so. He needs professional help to learn and to overcome any issues that might have caused him to start disordered eating. An eating disorder is a coping mechanism for many, and they need to learn other coping mechanisms in order to manage life without engaging in food or drug disorders.

Suicide is not the only danger facing someone with an eating disorder. Malnutrition often leads to a fatal imbalance of several minerals causing heart problems. Bulimia nervosa for example is hard on the stomach and the esophagus, a rupture may become fatal.

These are just a few examples of several medical conditions that are caused by eating disorders, and have almost no warning signs when they appear. Also, in many cases eating disorders lead to substance abuse disorders. The sufferer uses drugs to stay slim, or to overcome feelings of shame and guilt, or to numb himself.

Professional Intervention

A professional intervention or a thorough assessment from a professional therapist in an eating disorder facility is important. A lot of substance abuse disorders are mistakenly sent to treatment facilities without the diagnosis of the primary problem, an eating disorder.

Many people suffering anorexia or bulimia nervosa are at the same time taking Methamphetamines or other synthetic drugs to create a higher metabolism and work as an appetite suppressant.

The problem is not the drugs, the problem is the eating disorder and without a proper intervention it often gets mistreated. The loved one has no chance to get better without the eating disorder being addressed as well. With a professional intervention, you receive the help you need for yourself or your loved one.

Greeting the new dayDepending on the circumstances, it may be suggested to enter two specialized facilities after to address the eating disorder and substance abuse disorder simultaneously or one after the other. It depends on the personal situation, each treatment needs to be as unique as a thumbprint designed for the client. Your professional and certified interventionist is trained to help you with these decisions.

An intervention may address the issue and prevent death. We don’t have to wait until the person is ready or facing harsh consequences. We can help him to get ready for this necessary step to get help. The biggest motivator is love – not pain, shame, blame, fear or guilt.

It is most likely fear that prevents the loved one of getting help, there is no need to increase the fear. Eating disorders are a vicious cycle in the field of addiction and mental health. An intervention can interrupt this cycle and prepare the person to change directions before it is too late.

Last but not least, the great news: Eating disorders are treatable and often the people recover completely. It is a long hard road, but you or your loved one can look out to a good future, if you take the necessary steps for your recovery.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What has been your experience with interventions and disordered eating?

Susanne Johnson headshotAbout the author: Originally from Germany, Susanne Johnson has traveled the world, living on three continents and visiting nearly 50 countries. She earned a degree in business administration and worked as a hotel and restaurant manager in Germany for several years. While living in Egypt in 1997, she married an American. In 2006, her journey led her to the US when she and her husband moved to California.

After years of battling addiction, she found recovery at Michael’s House in Palm Springs, CA, in 2010. She continues to attend three or four recovery group meetings per week and enjoys spending time with many friends who are in recovery. She also takes time to speak about addiction and recovery at a variety of meetings and events. The joy that Susanne feels in her new life led her to become involved as a lead advocate with Heroes in Recovery in 2012.

She says that this organization is where her inspiration for helping others to achieve sobriety found its start. Her goal now is to help others to achieve sobriety and remind the public to have acceptance and tolerance for those who seek help for addiction or mental health problems.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 9, 2015
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com