We often hear this question from individuals and their families: “How ill do you have to be to necessitate eating disorder treatment?”
The short answer is if you are concerned at all about an eating disorder being present, you need to get assessed for treatment. It doesn’t matter how ill you are, how sick you feel, what you look like, or whether or not you fit the definition in some book. Anyone that thinks they might have an eating disorder should absolutely get assessed for treatment.
It is the nature of eating disorders to get worse, not better, unless you get the help you need. Studies show people who don’t receive treatment get worse over time and, in fact, their risk of dying prematurely increases as the presence of an eating disorder continues. However, when people are treated for an eating disorder, they are often able to take back their lives.
Eating disorders are subtle illnesses. Often, we have behaviors, such as restriction or compulsive exercise, that actually look normal to others, but in our hearts and thoughts, we may understand them to be symptoms of an illness. Anyone who is concerned that they might have an eating disorder probably does.
You don’t have to be in a hospital, starving yourself, purging every day, or exercising constantly to require care. Anyone with negative behaviors, troubled body image, or disordered eating that disrupts their life, can and should get eating disorder treatment.
Mark Warren is the chief medical officer of The Emily Program. He is also one of the original founders of the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders, which became The Emily Program – Cleveland in 2014. A Cleveland native, he is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School and completed his residency at Harvard Medical School. He served as Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Hospital and Medical Director of University Hospital Health System’s Laurelwood Hospital. A past vice-chair for clinical affairs at the Case School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, he continues on the Clinical Faculty of the Medical School, teaching in both the Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics. He is currently a faculty member and former chair of the Board of Governors at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. Dr. Warren is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, a two-time recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and a winner of the Woodruff Award. He leads the Males and Eating Disorders special interest group for the Academy of Eating Disorders.
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