Shining a Spotlight on Eating Disorders: Why Awareness Week is Crucial, According to an Expert

Posted February 29, 2024
Shining a Spotlight on Eating Disorders: Why Awareness Week is Crucial, According to an Expert

The University of Louisville School of Medicine is committed to pursuing groundbreaking research that positively impacts the community, the commonwealth, and beyond. Eating disorders affect an estimated 9% of Americans — nearly 30 million people — and can impact a person’s eating behaviors and perceptions about food and their bodies. Cheri Levinson, Ph. D., HSP, is an associate professor at the University of Louisville and is the founder of the Louisville Center for Eating Disorders. Levinson specializes in the study and intervention of eating and anxiety disorders and leads innovative research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). For National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, we sat down with Dr. Levinson to better understand her research in eating disorders.

ULSOM: What has been your motivation to pursue eating disorder research? 

Levinson: Growing up I had many friends and family members who had eating disorders and there was nowhere for them to go to get help. I wanted to understand the illnesses more and so when I started doing psychology research, I was drawn into research on eating disorders that would help me understand how to better help those impacted by these deadly diseases.

ULSOM: How did receiving the NIH New Innovator Award impact you? 

Levinson: I am just so excited! This award is amazing because it allows me and my team to do what I think is extremely important work developing a personalized treatment for eating disorders and doing it in the way that I think will lead to the most success. I've also always been told I am an ‘out of the box’ thinker, which is not always rewarded with traditional funding mechanisms, so it is extremely validating to get this award and know that so many people are rooting for these ideas to become a success in a way that can positively impact society.

ULSOM: Who do you hope to see impacted by your research in eating disorders? 

Levinson: Everyone with an eating disorder and everyone who has ever loved or cared for someone with an eating disorder. I also think that this work will end up being extended to the whole field of psychology and psychiatry, meaning it has the potential to impact treatment development for all mental illnesses. I am very hopeful that we are going to be able to build a data-based personalized treatment that works for everyone and is easy to scale and implement in communities globally.

ULSOM: What impact does the personalization of eating disorder treatment have on those being treated?

Levinson: We are finding that personalization really improves treatment adherence (meaning people are more likely to stick with treatment) and that it significantly reduces not only eating disorder symptoms, but also symptoms of depression, worry, and anxiety, and improves quality of life. I think the ability to personalize treatment to one person is so important because every eating disorder looks different. Using treatments not designed for the specific person leaves so much out of treatment that is needed for successful recovery.

ULSOM: In what ways do you see underserved populations go unnoticed in eating disorder research and treatment?

Levinson: Eating disorders impact people of all genders, ages, ethnicities, sexual identities, socioeconomic status, and body size. Unfortunately, most of our research and treatment access to date has been for white females. We need more research that includes everyone with all their unique identities and experiences.

ULSOM: How do you see eating disorder research and treatment changing for the next generation?

Levinson: I think we are going to see a huge focus on more inclusive research, the use of technology and digital treatments to improve treatments, and a focus on dismantling systems like food insecurity and weight stigma to improve outcomes.

ULSOM: How has the University of Louisville School of Medicine played a role in advancing your research?

Levinson: My primary appointment is in psychological and brain sciences in arts and sciences, and I just joined pediatrics this summer. Overall, UofL has always been extremely supportive of my work and providing the resources and support I need to grow the research impact and team of people who are dedicated to doing this type of work.

The University of Louisville School of Medicine recognizes Dr. Levinson and her advances in the field of eating disorder treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling, we encourage you to reach out for help and seek treatment.