For people with eating disorders, the holidays can be one of the toughest times to get through, and clearly may have struggled and suffered trying to get through Thanksgiving, Xmas, and the New Year.
Many who don’t understand eating disorders don’t understand that it can often be classified as a mental illness, and one leading expert on the subject, who had an eating disorder herself, wants people to have a clearer picture of how to define eating disorders, and help people better.
Giving Back and Helping
One leading expert on eating disorders, Kristina Saffran, suffered from an eating disorder herself before getting help and founding her own organization that helps people, Project Heal. She shared some current stats with Forbes, and the numbers tell us that 10 percent of Americans, or five million people a year, suffer from eating disorders.
Saffran told Forbes, “After opioid use disorder, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.” And as with many mental illnesses and addictions, there are major misconceptions that need to be cleared up.
“There’s an unfortunate stigma that this is a rich white girl problem,” Saffran continues. “But this illness affects folks pretty equally across race, class, ethnicity. A third of the sufferers are men.”
And this is also an illness that can hide in plain sight. Just because someone doesn’t look like they’re starving doesn’t mean they are not suffering. “The majority of people who suffer are not underweight, you really can’t tell just by looking at them.”
Treating the Illness
When asked the best way to treat eating disorders, Saffran says they “require specialized outpatient treatment from a trained and coordinated multidisciplinary care team.” The techniques used to treat people include cognitive behavior therapy and involving families so that everyone can heal together.
“Not being motivated to recover is a core part of the eating disorder,” Saffran explains. “So peer support is critical in keeping people engaged in treatment…family-based treatment has become the leading treatment for adolescents with eating disorders. It’s a simple treatment that says: parents are not to blame and are actually the best assets in helping their kids to recover.”
Healing on the Outside
Receiving treatment is one thing, and Saffran got help early. The hard part was being back out in the world and dealing with her triggers. “As I developed friends and hobbies and interests, there started to be real consequences to relapsing.”
Saffran, and other leaders in the field, want there to be better access for everyone to get help if they suffer from eating disorders. And not just helping people getting care, but good care. “It’s not enough for people to have access to any treatment, they need access to quality treatment that will keep them well long after treatment ends.”
Like any mental illness, eating disorders are a complex and difficult puzzle to solve, but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope. Far from it in fact, and there’s many people all around the world that can help people who suffer, and get them back into living a good life.
Saffran herself is “incredibly optimistic about the future of eating disorder treatment,” and here’s hoping that optimism will spread and bring about real results.