Eating disorders are complex illnesses. Diverse and multifaceted, they are associated with biological, psychological, and social factors that themselves are complex and interact with one another in complex ways.
One factor often overlooked in conversations about eating disorder development, illness, and recovery is food insecurity. Research about the link between food insecurity and eating disorders has emerged in recent years, as food insecurity has likewise seeped into the public consciousness more generally.
This article describes what we know about food insecurity and eating disorders to date, how to screen for food insecurity, and how to integrate food insecurity support into eating disorder treatment and recovery. By addressing food insecurity in patients with eating disorders (and eating disorders in patients experiencing food insecurity), providers can play a critical role in intervening and supporting those dually affected.
What is food insecurity?
Food insecurity, as defined by the USDA, is the “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food” or the “limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” Assessed on a household level, food insecurity is influenced by multiple factors and occurs at different levels of severity.