In a study recently published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders by Tabler and Utz (2015) it was demonstrated that eating disorders negatively impact domains of a person's life outside the obvious medical and psychological ones most talked about in the literature.
Researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to compare individuals with and without eating disorders (or disordered eating behaviors) to those without.
They found that eating disorders during adolescence impaired the following areas in females*:
- Educational attainment
- Personal income
- Odds of owning a home
*Interesting to note that these were not impaired in males with eating disorders. (But this is a topic for another day.)
To highlight the magnitude of this I want to restate it: Eating disorders in female adolescents decrease their socioeconomic success as adults.
This reinforces the need for eating disorder prevention as well as treatments that are 1) Early in the course of illness; 2) Effective.
An eating disorder is not "just a phase" or something a person "gets over" on their own. It is a serious illness with significant impact on many areas of a person's life. Also consider that an eating disorder often is a way of coping with negative emotions. I can't help but wonder how many adults with eating disorders are stuck in a cycle of negative emotions related to life dissatisfaction that is related to not achieving their career potential as a result of the eating disorder. How frustrating.
It's important to recognize the ways that mental health issues impact individuals ability to enter the marketplace and to thrive independently in life. When we consider someone with an eating disorder, they are struggling with one of life's most basic needs – food. So of course they need more support in other areas too. I've seen many young adult clients who are still quite dependent on their parents to help them eat, not to mention the financial dependence. The eating disorder stalls normal development and transition into adulthood.
The earlier treatment takes place the more effective it is. It's also essential to have a full multidisciplinary treatment team that includes a therapist, dietitian and doctor who are all familiar with eating disorders. The team may also need to include other members such as psychiatrist, group or family therapist, and other specialists. Doing treatment early and intensely will pay off for the rest of a person's life.