Overcoming Eating Disorders: Kelly Brownell, PhD

Discuss prevention and treatment of eating disorders with our weight disorder expert. 

By Kelly Brownell
WebMD Live Events Transcript

The opinions expressed in this transcript are those of the health professional and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician.

In the United States, conservative estimates indicate that after puberty, 5-10 million girls and women and 1 million boys and men are struggling with eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or borderline conditions. We discussed how you can recognize and overcome these eating disorders when WebMD's eating and weight disorders expert, Kelly Brownell, PhD, joined us on WebMD Live.

Moderator: Hello, Dr. Brownell. Welcome back to WebMD Live. We have so many questions for you -- let's begin.

In the United States, conservative estimates indicate that after puberty, 5-10 million girls and women and 1 million boys and men are struggling with eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or borderline conditions. We discussed how you can recognize and overcome these eating disorders when WebMD's eating and weight disorders expert, Kelly Brownell, PhD, joined us on WebMD Live.

Member: I've suffered from anorexia in the past and received intense inpatient and outpatient treatment for several years. I stopped restricting and returned to a normal weight, but now suffer from binge eating, which in my experience is far more emotionally damaging and harder to behaviorally affect change. I still see a professional therapist, but I feel like my so-called recovery from anorexia has been a lie -- I've just replaced one eating disorder with another. Has my therapy failed me? Though I know it differs from individual to individual, what are the most effective approaches to the treatment of food addiction and binge disorder?

Brownell: If you believe that current therapy is not helping, don't hesitate to shop around for different help. There are many therapists who advertise themselves as specialists in eating disorders who may not be using proven techniques. For binge eating, cognitive-behavioral approaches appear to work best. It's completely within your right to ask the therapists if they use this approach or whether science supports the approach they do use. There is an excellent book by Dr. Christopher Fairburn called Overcoming Binge Eating. This book might very well be of help to you. Keep trying, as with the right help you might very well be free of eating disorders some day.

Member: I don't know if I have an eating disorder. I'll eat at school and with my friends and not vomit. And I don't think about it and don't feel guilty. But when I'm home I either don't eat or vomit after eating. Is that borderline?

Brownell: If you are vomiting after eating, you have a problem. While you may know other people who do this, it can be a troubling condition that could get worse over time. The best approach is to normalize eating. That means to eat regular meals, to not restrict, not to binge. If you feel you cannot control this on your own, it's important to seek help from a professional who understands eating problems. This way, they might catch the problem early and prevent it from growing worse.

Good luck!

Member: I'm a 15-year-old female. I weigh about 125 and I'm 5'6 and lately I have been kind of on a diet where I can only eat at certain times of day and if I do otherwise I take laxative tablets. None of my friends know about this. Well, I don't think they do because I'm really good at hiding things. I'm not sure if this is even a problem.

Brownell: This is a problem. It is not normal to eat at a certain time of day only, and laxative use can be a trap like quicksand. Once you start being preoccupied with eating and weight, it's easy for other aspects of your life to be crowded out. As I mentioned to the previous chatter, it is best to eat regular meals, avoid extremes of restriction and overeating. It is essential to young people to protect themselves from the toxic messages received in the media. The "perfect body" one sees in models and actresses is unobtainable for most of us and is probably unhealthy. The best weight for an individual is what they attain when they eat a healthy diet and get regular activity. Just like people vary in hair color and eye color, people vary in body shape and weight.

Trying to squeeze yourself into the arbitrary ideal is unfair and shackles you with worries you don't deserve and can lead to bad behavior like laxative use. If you find you cannot solve this problem on your own, please discuss this with your parents or with someone you trust at school immediately. I hope this is helpful.

Member comment: That's how I started -- diet and laxatives. Most important is to find out why [you have] the preoccupation [with weight and food]. Only 13 years later have I started to really get a handle on that!



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