Eating Disorders and the Importance of Early Intervention
For people with eating disorders, early intervention can be life-saving.
And in some cases, widespread screening may actually help prevent eating disorders from fully developing. Whether symptoms are overt or masked by diet culture misinformation and unrealistic beauty standards, studies indicate a four to six-year delay, on average, between the onset of disordered eating symptoms and when an individual finally seeks treatment. Early intervention requires vigilance and support. Alsana is here for you and your clients as you navigate these tough conversations.
Timing matters: the importance of early intervention
Nearly 30 million Americans will have an eating disorder at some point in their lifetimes, and most of them will not receive treatment. Early intervention is advised because while recovery is never easy, treatment works best when delivered early.
Benefits of early intervention
When communicating with your clients, it may be helpful to make them aware of some of the many benefits associated with not delaying care.
- Likely to spend less time in treatment, meaning less time spent away from school, family, work, and significant milestones/events.
- Greater possibility of entering treatment at a lower level of care, causing less disruption or interruption.
- Recovery is statistically more likely to last, which means reduced chances of relapse or having to return to treatment.
- Fewer physical health risks or long-term complications; medical teams can provide care before health concerns worsen.
- Co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse can be addressed more holistically and effectively.
- Individuals who receive care early have less time to bond or identify with their symptoms, making it easier to untangle maladaptive behaviors and food beliefs.
- Likely to be more receptive to their care team and get more out of their time in treatment.
Of course, early intervention cannot take place without early detection of eating disorder signs and symptoms. That’s why we offer free, confidential screening tools; if you are concerned that a client or loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder, our assessment surveys for clients and providers are available and designed with you in mind. In some cases, they even help in initiating a conversation with your clients about treatment.
Behavioral signs and symptoms of eating disorders:
- Sudden interest in weight loss diets (e.g., keto) or specialized diets (e.g., no sugar)
- Excessive/compulsive exercise
- Binge eating
- Self-induced vomiting
- Laxative, diuretic, and/or diet pill abuse
- Frequently comments on body shape/weight
- Impulsive or irregular eating habits
- Insulin misuse (in individuals with diabetes)
- Noticeable negative emotions around food
When an individual is entrenched in their eating disorder, they are likely to experience difficulty in making objective decisions about treatment. It’s common for an individual to acknowledge their disorder and the need for treatment one day, only to tell a different story the next.
The fear of life without one’s coping mechanism of choice is overwhelming. Understandably, this can add to the difficulty (not to mention anxiety) inherent in conversations around treatment.
Also of note, it can be exceedingly difficult for some clients to validate their symptoms; diet culture has painted healthy moderation as lazy mediocrity, and food restriction as disciplined wellness. Some clients view their eating disorder as the one thing they’re “good at” or the one thing that provides a sense of control.
Regardless of age, individuals in crisis will benefit from your decisiveness and guidance in finding the most appropriate level and method of eating disorder care. Don’t be afraid to be lovingly direct in explaining your recommendations. This is life-saving work.
Challenging, necessary, conversations
When you’re preparing to talk to your loved one about treatment, have a conversation with their outpatient provider (such as a therapist, dietitian, or medical professional) about the level of care they need. This is key, as the outpatient provider relationship is crucial throughout the entire treatment journey, and being aligned with their provider(s) will send a strong message to your loved ones about the help they need. These early conversations can be challenging and emotional. Therefore, if you have questions or need help identifying the best approach for starting a dialogue with a client or loved one whom you suspect may be struggling, please reach out to our Admissions Team at alsana.com/livechat.
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