Eating disorders affect 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States and approximately 15% of these individuals seek professional help for their disorder. Additionally, the average time it takes to seek clinical treatment is eight years, meaning that the client’s eating disorder is mostly likely severe and has resulted in dental, medical or psychological complications. For any eating disorder, early intervention is essential for rapid recovery and success. Often an individual, regardless of the age, will engage in hiding or hoarding food, eating in secret, purging in secret, and hiding any signs of weight fluctuations. It may be difficult for family, friends, and the individual to notice that they are struggling with an eating disorder. Many adults will start binging or purging in childhood, either due to what was demonstrated by family or to “numb” painful childhood experiences such as trauma or bullying.
Benefits of Early Intervention
Receiving treatment is best accepted early in the development of the eating disorder:
- Studies show that early identification and treatment improves the speed of recovery.
- Early intervention studies also indicate that there is a reduction in symptoms following treatment.
- Early intervention can improve the likelihood of staying eating disorder free after recovery is attained.
- Early intervention treatment most likely will not require a high level of care such as impatient treatment or residential treatment and therefore outpatient levels of care are more affordable and more flexible.
Early intervention doesn’t necessarily mean professional treatment
Early intervention strategies should focus on areas that educate and engage individuals in the severity of eating disorders. These can be online resources, community groups, or educational programs that teach individuals about recognizing the signs and symptoms associated with eating disorders. National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), offers initiative and education programming on their website aimed at the university, high school, and youth populations. Other ways to assess and screen is through an online assessment to see if symptoms meet the criteria for an eating disorder. Online, campus-wide screenings upon college enrollment is one strategy to reach students who are unaware of the severity of the illness and/or those who wish to handle the disease independently. These screenings serve as a gateway for students to learn more about eating disorders, and also as a means to get the best treatment associated with their level of risk. Other websites, such as Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), and Project Heal can help an individual learn more about eating disorders, and find resources available in their area.
When early professional treatment is necessary
You have noticed that you are becoming more obsessed with food, your weight and your body image. You may even be hiding food, binging and engaging in self-induced vomiting. You have looked through online websites about eating disorders and you don’t want to admit you may be developing anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa because you are scared what may happen or what others may think of you. This is the time to seek professional treatment before your early stages of an eating disorder spiral out of control. Dental complication, malnutrition, organ failure, menstrual abnormalities, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are well-known complications of eating disorders however they can all be prevented with early treatment intervention.