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The Uphill Battle of Treating Eating Disorders

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The Uphill Battle of Treating Eating Disorders

An eating disorder according to the National Institute of Mental Health is an illness associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. While eating disorders are often presented in more physical ways, they wreak havoc on someone’s mental health too. While they manifest differently, they all share the common thread of disrupting a person’s life, often leading to severe health consequences if left untreated. From malnutrition and electrolyte imbalances to cardiovascular issues and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, the ramifications of eating disorders extend far beyond physical appearance. 

The most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating disorder. To learn more about each disorder, this video from the American Psychiatric Association explains eating disorders and what symptoms may look like.  

In a world where body image ideals are constantly shifting and societal pressures to conform to certain standards are ever-present, it is no surprise that many individuals struggle with their relationship to food and their bodies. With social media and the internet at our fingertips these days, it is hard to not doom scroll while looking at images of “perfect bodies.”  

Barriers to Treatment 

Did you know that eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness? Of all eating disorders, anorexia nervosa has the highest risk of death. Nine percent of the US population (28.8 million Americans) will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives. We could easily blame these statistics on doom scrolling or society, but the issue is deeper than that. It can be incredibly hard to receive treatment for eating disorders.  

The National Eating Disorder Association discusses barriers that prevent treatment in the graphic here.

The NEDA also points out that federal funding for eating disorder research is incredibly low. Other illnesses like schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s Disease receive $86-$88 per individual diagnosis while eating disorders receive seventy-three cents.  

Another barrier to treatment is stigmas around what a typical eating disorder body looks like. Someone may weigh a “normal” weight and can still be fighting an eating disorder. For individuals in higher weight bodies, they are less likely to receive a diagnosis. Even though these individuals are 2 to 3 times more likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors. According to NEDA, weight stigma delayed care led to substandard treatment environments and reduced utilization of healthcare services.  

This video from TED-Ed dives deeper into the complex effect that eating disorders have on the mind and body. 

How We Can Help 

Comprehensive treatment typically involves a multidisciplinary approach, including therapy, nutritional counseling, medical monitoring, and sometimes medication. As a Foreign Service Benefit Plan member, access to treatments like those above are not hard to receive or incredibly expensive.  

We offer nutritional counseling as part of our Wellness Programs. Through our Digital Coach Program, members can receive personalized coaching for successful behavior change. Lifestyle Condition Health Coaching uses a more holistic approach to nutrition management. To learn more about each of these programs, click here 

As an FSBP member, you have access to a multitude of Mental Wellness programs. Along with the programs mentioned above, we offer myStrength which is a program for you and dependents age 13 and older to help overcome obstacles that improve overall well-being. AbleTo is an 8-week treatment support program to address the unique emotional and behavioral health needs of an individual. Through Teladoc, you can see a behavioral health provider for depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as a nutritionist for dietary conditions. We offer another resource for children and teens, as well as their parents called Brightline. Brightline is a behavioral health benefit that supports psychologists, psychiatrists, speech therapists and more. Learn more about each program here. 

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