Why Do Eating Disorders Go Untreated?

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Up to 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder, but only 1 in 10 of these people will ever receive treatment. If you’ve never had an eating disorder, those alarming statistics may be surprising, but as anyone who has ever struggled with one of these disorders may tell you, it’s really not much of a shock.

Treatment for eating disorders are not quick or easy, and there are countless hurdles standing between a person who lives with an eating disorder and treatment. People struggling with eating disorders often feel isolated, scared, vulnerable, and embarrassed. Frequently, those who do seek treatment are stigmatized by their peers and even family.

While the general public may think of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia as simple conditions born out of the desire to be thin, the truth is much more complicated. There are complex mental and physical issues related to eating disorders that are much more dangerous than the public tends to think.

Similarly, the average person tends to think treatment is equally simple. In actuality, the process can be grueling and emotionally draining. Individuals who undergo treatment for eating disorders have to rebuild themselves both physically and emotionally while simultaneously learning the tools and skills needed to return to a normal life without succumbing to the same pressures and compulsions.

While outside pressures and stigma can make seeking treatment for an eating disorder difficult enough on their own, the most resilient hurdles come from inside. Eating disorders are deceptive and individuals can live with an eating disorder for years before realizing they have a problem.

In most cases, restrictive eating disorders such as anorexia begin with seemingly innocuous dieting. The initial result can be enthralling, as individuals experience an increase in self-confidence and often receive compliments from their peers. Over time however, things begin to take a more sinister turn.

Gradually, what began as realistic weight and image goals become unattainable and the attempt to control weight becomes more obsessive as adverse psychological, emotional, and social consequences begin to take shape.

As the eating disorder progresses, these unrealistic expectations and goals are driven by depression, anxiety, mood fluctuations, and social withdrawal until they begin to have severe impacts on educational, employment, and social goals. Eventually, the conviction and compulsion for weight control becomes so rigid that even the strongest interventions can be ineffective.

This leads to another major roadblock on the way to recovery. While an individual with an eating disorder may be aware their behaviors are destructive and may be contributing to issues in their personal and professional life, the desire for treatment may be hampered by fears and feelings of helplessness.

Individuals with eating disorders frequently experience feelings of self-hatred about their physical appearance and suffer from significant social and life functioning insecurity. They also tend to be aware that treatment is not easy. Most patients know they will likely feel worse at the beginning of treatment, and that speedbump can also be a deterrent to vulnerable individuals considering treatment.

These hurdlers are preventing the majority of individuals with eating disorders from seeking treatment, but the consequences of “waiting until you are ready” for treatment can be staggering. The longer an individual lives with an eating disorder, the more susceptible they are to significant, life-threatening medical complications that are often irreversible. These medical complications can affect nearly every aspect of the body including the organ systems, bones, and cognitive faculties even years after recovery.

The most harrowing consequence of eating disorders is also the most unrecognized. While most understand that eating disorders can have significant mental and physical effects, few know the death toll tied to these disorders. Reports indicate that mortality rates for anorexia nervosa alone exceed the expected incidence of death from all other causes among women 15-24 years of age by 12-fold, and are approximately three times more likely to lead to death than other mental disorders.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please call (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and see if treatment is the right path for you or your loved one.

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