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Undercover investigation shows that most docs fail at diagnosing eating disorders


Imagine going to your doctor with a list of symptoms that clearly indicate the presence of an eating disorder.

Now imagine that your trusted physician laughs at you, brushes off your concerns, or even tells you that you're being dramatic.

That's exactly what happened to several women who were part of an undercover investigation led by Glamour Magazine and the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, an advocacy and education group in South Florida.

The project was simple: test how well doctors responded to patient concerns about eating disorders. The results? Not too encouraging, to say the least.

Woman left 'disappointed, angry and embarrassed'

The investigation included seven women who went to doctor's appointments nationwide. Each of the women had memorized expert-approved talking points about eating disorder symptoms, yet only one physician passed the test by acknowledging a possible eating disorder.

Kathryn, 31, said her appointment left her feeling "disappointed, angry and embarrassed."

"As a patient, I did what I was 'supposed' to do – chronicled all my symptoms and talked about stuff that was bothering me," she said in Glamour's article on the project. "But it didn't seem to matter."

Of the six other physicians the women saw, one said she was unsure about the presence of an eating disorder, and the five others either missed or ignored the women's concerns.

Ignorance, dismissal common problems

According to the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, this is a common story. One survey conducted by the organization found that 79 percent of health-care providers don't feel educated enough to identify the problems associated with eating disorders. And this ignorance, experts say, is deadly.

"It's a crisis," said Johanna Kandel, founder and CEO of the Alliance. "Without a doubt, people have died because doctors haven't caught their eating disorder."

Kandel said that most doctors just don't receive enough training about these health issues in medical school – one session on the topic is the average amount of education provided.

Furthermore, stigma about eating disorders being "voluntary" conditions runs rampant in many medical circles.

"Some factions in the health care community still believe that eating disorders are a choice, or that they are all about vanity or appearance – even though we know there are very real biological and genetic causes," Kandel said. "I once was in a room filled with mental health professionals talking about what programs to fund, and a few actually rolled their eyes when I brought up the importance of eating disorders."

If you suspect you have an eating disorder and want to discuss the topic with an expert, it's important to see someone who has training in treating these types of issues, said Ovidio Bermudez, M.D., a medical director at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver.

And if having an honest conversation with your doctor doesn't seem to work? Pennsylvania Family physician Wanda Filer, M.D., said that it's OK to switch doctors.

"In family medicine we care for a lot of young women," said Filer, "and usually we have a series of things in our mind like Pap smears, dating violence, substance abuse. Eating disorders need to be on that list."

To find a local provider who has training and education in eating disorders, visit

Source: Glamour
Photo credit: Naypong/