Few conditions are as complex—or as deadly—as eating disorders. These psychiatric illnesses can cause severe disruptions to a person’s physical health, emotional well-being, and social life. In the United States alone, it is estimated that more than 28 million people will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, yet they are often misunderstood. Here’s a closer look at why eating disorders are so deadly and what can be done to prevent them.
The Physical Consequences of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders take a toll on the body in several ways. Anorexia nervosa, for example, can cause heart problems, bone loss, and organ damage. Bulimia nervosa can lead to electrolyte imbalances, which can then cause irregular heart rhythms and even heart failure. And binge eating disorder often leads to obesity, which increases the risk for hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.
But why are eating disorders so deadly? One reason is that they often go undiagnosed and untreated. People with eating disorders frequently don’t seek help because they’re ashamed or embarrassed. And even when they do seek help, they may not get the treatment they need because eating disorders are notoriously difficult to treat.
Another reason why eating disorders are deadly is that they commonly co-occur with other mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. This can make it even harder for people to recover because they’re dealing with multiple diseases simultaneously.
Lastly, eating disorders are deadly because they can cause people to take extreme measures to manage their symptoms. Many people with eating disorders engage in dangerous behaviors such as self-induced vomiting and laxative abuse, which can have severe negative consequences for health.
Thankfully, there are ways eating disorders can be treated. Here are some effective forms of treatment:
There are now treatment centers dedicated to handling individual eating disorders. For example, a reputable anorexia treatment center can help people get healthy and learn to manage their symptoms. They can even offer group therapy, which allows individuals to share their experiences with others and receive support.
Psychotherapy is a talking therapy that can help people with eating disorders learn new coping skills and change their beliefs about food and weight. Common types of psychotherapy used to treat eating disorders include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and family-based therapy (FBT).
Medication can be used to treat the symptoms of an eating disorder, but it is not a cure. Some common medicines used to treat eating disorders include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers. However, it’s important to note that treatment should be used in conjunction with psychotherapy for the best results.
Nutritional counseling can help people with eating disorders develop healthy attitudes toward food and nutrition. Nutritional counselors can also help people with eating disorders develop meal plans that meet their unique needs.
Hospitalization may be necessary for people with severe anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Hospitalization can provide people with the time and space necessary to stabilize their weight and start on the road to recovery.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Eating Disorders?
Prevention will always be better than cure. Here are four common ways to prevent eating disorders.
Educating children is one of the best ways to prevent eating disorders. This includes educating young people about healthy nutrition, body image, and self-esteem. Educating parents and teachers can also help prevent eating disorders.
Limiting the presence of unrealistic body images in the media is another important way to prevent eating disorders. This can include campaigns against body shaming and promoting realistic representations of beauty in the media.
When family members support each other, they’re less likely to develop an eating disorder or engage in unhealthy behaviors like binge eating or purging. In addition, keeping loved ones who are struggling with an eating disorder can make all the difference when it comes to recovery.
In addition to education and awareness, developing healthy habits as a society can help prevent eating disorders. This includes encouraging exercise and balanced nutrition and promoting healthy body image in both men and women.
Eating disorders are complex psychiatric illnesses that can have severe physical and mental health consequences. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s essential to seek professional help as soon as possible. With proper treatment, recovery is possible—but without it, these illnesses can be deadly.