In America alone, there are about 30 million people that are battling a full blown eating disorder and so many more that have body image issues that may lead to eating disorders or other mental issues. Unfortunately, these numbers are lower than the real number of people with these disorders. Due to stigmas around mental health, a lot of people are too afraid or ashamed to get the help that they need whether it's therapy, medication, or in-patient treatment.
In order to do my part in breaking this stigma, here's some info about the reality of these complex psychiatric illnesses. These illnesses can be genetic and caused by environmental factors. These conditions are NOT lifestyle choices and are NOT to be romanticized. The reality of eating disorders is that it can be life threatening if gone untreated or not caught early enough.
Believe it or not, anybody and everybody can be at risk for developing an eating disorder. You do not have to be skin and bones to have an eating disorder, nor do you have to be overweight. Any gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation can be at risk. People can be anorexic without being below a normal weight, and they can be bulimic without purging after every meal. Like I said, these disorders are complex and hard to detect in some cases as people have found tricks to cover up these tendencies.
Eating disorders also tend to have high comorbidity rates with other mental illnesses; the most common being anxiety and depression. Because of this, some of the best treatments for eating disorders involve some sort of counseling along with medical attention to ensure the patient is getting enough nutrients. Treatment for eating disorders should be unique to each person and cater to the psychological and biological aspects of it all.
With this being said, you can't just say, "If you'd just stop purging, you would be fine." or "Just work out a little more if you're worried about your weight". These statements will not help. Eating disorders are not that easy and are exactly what they're called; a DISORDER. Someone battling an eating disorder needs professional help.
If you are worried about someone, you can call the Eating Disorder Helpline at 800-931-2237 where they will be able to talk you through what to say to the loved one to voice concerns or help with body image issues. The website (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) also contains a toolkit to help parents with a child that is suffering from and ED. If you are looking for treatment, there are options at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-treatment. Any further information can be requested via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, you are valid, you are beautiful, and recovery is possible.