When a person first gets an eating disorder they may not even know what it is. Even then it is likely that they will try to hide what they are doing, whether it is pigging out and purging, excessive exercising or one of the other symptoms of the disorder. Sometimes they try to stop this kind of behaviour without help – and may even succeed if the disorder has not been going on for too long. But mostly, their success is only temporary.
This is the time when they have to best chance of recovery, but often they don’t get it because no one knows what’s going on. Eating disorders are a health problem that can easily be hidden. The problem is that often people don’t realise that they have an eating disorder as such, or don’t think it is as serious as we know today that it is. With a young person, peer pressure is applied so their friends don’t want to ‘dob’ them in. They just hope the problem will go away – but it does not.
While no one really knows what causes it and why one person may get it while another does not, we do know that everyone needs medical intervention of some kind in order to recover completely from an eating disorder. Otherwise, they actually end up starving themselves to death while still thinking they need to lose more weight.
It is important to understand that eating disorders are a psychiatric illness and unless treated can cause severe medical complications leading to an early death or possible suicide. The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is over 12 times that of people without such a problem. According to research 1 out of 5 people with Anorexia Nervosa commit suicide.
So what is the treatment? Often the person with an eating disorder must be hospitalised in order to monitor their condition and make sure they eat. They may need to have a drip inserted to add hydration, or they may need to be force-fed. Once they have recovered physically they should have a psychiatric evaluation to ensure they are not going to suicide and counselling to help them gain a better image of themselves.
Such a person will usually be highly dissatisfied with their body image so it is essential for family and friends to focus on things they are good at, to plan for or discuss the person’s future and to be patient, because recovery takes a long time. Even when the person does recover from the eating disorder they may have to live with the results of it in their body as disease is more likely to attack a body that has been weakened in this way.