Dealing with eating disorders in the long term

Although many people recover quite quickly from an eating disorder, many experience long duration of eating disorder illness with some suffer for years. If a patient has an eating disorder for more than five years, it’s classified as severe and enduring. While early detection and assertive intervention is recommended for the best outcome for patients, treatment is recommended and recovery is possible at any stage.

For sufferers and their families, ongoing eating disorders can be incredibly challenging. Families can feel frustrated, sad and angry, and often become isolated from the wider community. Because eating disorders have some of the highest mortality rates for mental illness, families can also feel frightened and hopeless the longer the disorder goes on.

If you’re caring for someone with a chronic eating disorder, it’s important to make sure you have appropriate medical support. Many families negotiate regular appointments with a GP to check on health issues.

Severe and Enduring Eating Disorders

In recent years, eating disorder psychology has recognized a sub-group of eating disorders known as Severe and Enduring Eating Disorders (SEED).

While there is no diagnostic criteria or agreed upon definition, generally these patients can be classified as: (1) being consistently ill for 10 or more years; (2) having experienced at least one recognized therapeutic treatment; (3) displaying severity impairment across a number of life domains; and (4) demonstrating low motivation for recovery (Strober, Freeman, & Morrell, 1997).

From the study of this SEED group, we have also learned that there is significant evidence that after 10 years, eating disorders can become considerably more difficult to recover from and treat.

When treating this gravely ill population, several poignant questions immediately arise:

  • How do we treat these patients?
  • Do we aim for recovery?
  • Is it even possible?
  • Are their medical complications different due to longevity of illness?