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Surviving an Eating Disorder


An eating disorder is a class of mental illnesses where behaviors, weight, and food are core elements. The diseases are potentially life-threatening. Subsequently, eating disorder survival depends on understanding the disorder, keeping a realistic outlook, seeking professional help, and having a coping plan in place. Using these tips helps individuals, their families, and their friends weather challenges.


What Are Eating Disorders?

First, eating disorders are mental illnesses usually grouped into four categories. The categories are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorders not otherwise specified (ED-NOS) according to the National Eating Disorders (NED) website. Next, eating disorders are more than just food indulgences, fads, or crazes. Affected individuals have varying degrees of emotional, physical, and mental behavior governing their approach to food. Managing or overcoming these behaviors requires professional help, medical and mental health, over some time. It also means using the support of family and friends in a structured, non-confrontational manner according to NED.


What Are the Major Health Concerns?

Each disorder has its own set of health concerns. Subsequently, each patient needs treatment tailored to their condition. For example, anorexia nervosa treatment needs to address bone loss or muscle mass according to NED. Anorexia also means taking precautions against low heart rates, blood pressure, or the risk of heart failure. In the case of binge eating, a medical team may have to address "high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated triglyceride levels, Type II diabetes, and gallbladder disease," according to the NED. The best remedy for potentially life-threatening disorders is to seek help as early as possible.


Are Symptoms Easy to Recognize?

Behavior is the first sign of possible problems. Additionally, each disorder has its own set of actions. For example, anorexia nervosa behavior may focus on fear of weight gain, dramatic weight loss, or abnormal value placed on body weight. Following behavior patterns are the attitudes displayed by affected individuals. Mental factors may include low self-esteem, preoccupation with weight, or denial.


What Are the Major Organizations Associated with the Disorders?

Several organizations research or support those affected by illnesses. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) is one of the oldest organizations. It focuses on providing support, research, and fundraising. The National Eating Disorders Associations (NEDA) educates, finds treatment, and finds support for its supporters. Binge Eating Disorders Association (BEDA) educates the public about binging, coping with the disorder, and finding relief. Additionally, there are numerous state and local groups. Support, educational information, and mental health resources are as close as a phone call or the internet.


What Can A Friend or Family Do?

Having a realistic outlook is the key to helping affected family members or friends. A range of resources includes support groups, websites, and local and national organizations. Taking advantage of these groups reduces feelings of stress, isolation, or helplessness. Next, recognize the symptoms and learn as much as possible about the disorder. Also, family and friends should understand and accept that they cannot control the choices of adults affected by the conditions. For children affected by the disorders, the NED recommends that parents seek professional help immediately after diagnosis.


The South Carolina Department of Mental Health's (SCDMH) website states, "One in five Americans suffers from (eating disorder) mental illnesses."  They affect nearly seven million women and one million men according to the site. Coping with these illnesses requires multiple treatment approaches including medical and mental health professionals. As affected individuals, family and friends understand the disease, use available resources, and keep realistic outlooks. They can manage the illness.


Eating disorders are the deadliest form of mental illness according to the SCDMH. "Over 8 million Americans have an eating disorder," according to the state agency. The SCDMH states, "20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems."

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