Study: Eating disorders often missed among overweight people

SEATTLE -- A recent study found that nearly half of people who suffer from an eating disorder have a history of being overweight. A Bellevue doctor worries that a stereotypical view of people with these disorders is keeping society from noticing problematic behavior among overweight or obese people.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic report adolescent patients with obesity are at significant risk of developing an eating disorder. Of patients treated at Mayo's eating disorder clinic last year, 45 percent were adolescents with a history of obesity.

"I'm not surprised," said Dr. Neeru Bakshi, a psychiatrist at The Moore Center in Bellevue. "A lot of our adolescents and young adults have started out in a place being obese or heavier. They start out wanting to lose weight in a healthy way and then it leads to something more obsessive."

Despite the prevalence of eating disorders among those with higher weights, researchers claim their symptoms often go unrecognized and untreated because the weight loss is seen as positive by providers and family members.

"You can be obese and have an eating disorder," Bakshi said. "I think that's where our cultural and medical opinions are off. For someone who is overweight it's thought they need to lose weight. Pediatricians are saying 'You lost weight, that's great.' They're not really investigating how they lost the weight."

Mayo Clinic researchers argue that formerly overweight adolescents tend to have more medical complications from eating disorders

Bakshi said she has seen overweight patients who are malnourished because of an eating disorder. They can also suffer from a calcium deficiency or osteoporosis.

To avoid developing dangerous habits, Bakshi said people looking to lose weight in a healthy way should never try to drop the pounds in isolation.

"Working with someone to lose weight is safer," she said. "If you're in some sort of structured program you're getting the checks and balances you need."

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