Eating disorder behaviors as predictors of suicidal ideation among people with an eating disorder

International Journal of Eating Disorders
By Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS


Objective: Suicidality is known to be elevated among people with an eating disorder. The aim of the current study was to examine whether any of three specific behavioral facets of eating disorders (i.e., purging, binge eating, restricting) would be the strongest predictors of suicidal ideation, controlling for one another, in longitudinal analyses from admission to discharge. We hypothesized that purging, above and beyond restricting or binge eating, would be the most important predictor of suicidal ideation.

Method: In the present study, patients with an eating disorder (N = 936), the majority of whom met criteria for a current DSM-5 diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa (n = 560), completed the Eating Pathology Symptoms Inventory (EPSI) and the Beck Depression Inventory II-Item 9 suicidal ideation index, at admission and again at discharge. The settings were eating disorder treatment facilities offering inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization program (PHP), and intensive outpatient (IOP) levels of care. We pitted EPSI purging, EPSI restriction, and EPSI binge eating against one another in a regression framework predicting discharge suicidal ideation controlling for suicidal ideation at admission.

Results: EPSI Purging significantly predicted both presence/absence of suicidal ideation (β = .22, t = 2.48, p = .01; OR = 1.25, 95% CI [1.05, 1.49]) and intensity of suicidal ideation (β = .04, t = 2.31, p = .02) at discharge, whereas neither EPSI Restricting nor EPSI Binge Eating did (p > .30).

Discussion: Study results suggest that purging may have particular relevance in estimating suicide risk in patients with an eating disorder.

Written by

Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS

Dr. Philip S. Mehler began his career at Denver Health more than 35 years ago and was formerly its Chief of Internal Medicine and then Denver Health’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) until he was promoted…

ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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