Master Skills Class: Solutions for Disordered Eating

What are signs of eating disorders? What causes the disorders, anyway?

Annie Root, an adult Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) program coordinator at a clinic for people with eating disorders, spoke at a NEOMED session recently and set a few things straight. One of the most important things to know: Eating disorders are a biologically-based brain illness. They are influenced – not caused – by environmental factors.

So, don’t blame the patient’s parents (or anyone else).

Root works at the Beachwood, Ohio location of the national Emily Program, which serves patients with a wide variety of eating disorders, from anorexia to binging or avoiding/restrictive food eating disorders.

She was invited to NEOMED by the Center for Student Wellness and Counseling Services to present the first in a series of master skills classes through which students can build their repertoire of clinical skills in their professional and personal lives.


There was time for questions and answers, such as College of Medicine second-year student AuBree LaForce’s question about what labs are taken for patients and how to establish baseline measurements for individual patients.

Lab values are the gold standard, but the focus definitely needs to be on treating each person holistically and as an individual, said Root. Growth curves are important for identifying ideal weight range and lab values are needed for tracking medical complications in patients with eating disorders. Body Mass Index (BMI) and family history are taken into consideration when diagnosing a client with an eating disorder, but there are many measures that make up a diagnosis, Root notes.

A few key takeaways:

  • Most disorders are diagnosed when patients are under the age of 20.
  • Recovery can take a long time (sometimes years, not months) because it involves re-learning habits through a variety of therapies, including DBT and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
  • Eating disorders are associated with higher suicide risk and other serious health risks, such as poorly controlled diabetes.

At the table

The most important first step that’s done at the Emily Program, said Root, is for the health care providers to sit down at a table and eat with the patient, modeling and encouraging normalized eating behavior – and delivering the message that all foods can fit. 

Additional master skills classes are being planned. Watch The Pulse for announcements.

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