How to Talk with Loved Ones Suffering from Eating Disorders

Dec 1, 2016

While young woman are a particularly vulnerable population when it comes to eating disorders, eating disorders affect women and men of all ages.

Lisa Knopp is the author of Bread, a memoir about her struggle with anorexia at the ages of fifteen, twenty-five and again at fifty-four. Knopp says her daughter was the one who really awakened her to this problem. "She told me, ‘You have an eating disorder, and you’re going to die if you don’t start eating more. I want to say it was a grand revelation and that I saw what I was doing, but it was really just the beginning of the self-knowledge that I needed,” says Knopp.

Through her research for the memoir, Knopp found that a variety of factors fuel this disorder.

“I came across something by Amy Liu, who compares eating disorders to a gun. She said that genes shape the gun, environment loads it, and stress pulls the trigger,” says Knopp. “So I researched those three pieces, and what I concluded was that some of this is beyond my control. There is a genetic disposition to this. Yet the messages from my environment, messages from the fashion industry, from the patriarchy, and from a hyper-consumerist culture - I can help control that, and that’s empowering to me.

If you see something, say something; but do it a really gentle, compassionate, empathetic way. - Marcy Shrum

Yet for many women and men who suffer from these disorders, researching their disease may be out of the question.

“You’re in denial; that’s one of the biggest things for people with eating disorders,” says Marcy Shrum, the vice president of the Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa and an outpatient mental health clinician. “You’re in denial that there’s a problem and that you’re at risk, but these are life threatening conditions. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate for any psychiatric disorder in women.”

With the amount of denial and the façade that everything is okay, it can be important for people to reach out to those they care about if they suspect something.

“If you’re concerned about someone, it’s really important that people say something. It’s kind of that ‘if you see something, say something,’ but do it a really gentle, compassionate, empathetic way,” says Shrum. “There are signs such as increased isolation, making excuses for already having eaten, spending lots of time at the gym, dramatic changes in weight. If you have a relationship with this person, you need to be paying attention.”

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe speaks with author Lisa Knopp and mental health clinician Marcy Shrum about recognizing and spreading awareness of eating disorders.

In the third segment of the show, she talks with journalist Lynn Povich, the first female senior editor at Newsweek magazine, former editor in chief of Working Woman Magazine, and the East Coast Managing Editor at She’s the author of the book, The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, which details the action in the Newsweek newsroom where women were fighting for equality. In 1970 Lynn Povich was one of 46 women who filed sex discrimination charges against the magazine.

She’s bringing her experience and expertise to Iowa on Thursday, Dec. 1, as the fall 2016 Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics.