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Wake up call: Eating disorders are the second most lethal illness for adults, second only to opioids

eating disorders kill children
Posted at 6:28 PM, May 04, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has been followed by a mental health pandemic and many don’t realize how many of those suffering are also living in silence with an eating disorder. Nearly 29 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, and Mackenzie Carmichael is one of them.

“I acquired this obsession with control and it specifically led to an unhealthy relationship with food, with eating, with my body," Carmichael said.

She thought she was the exception with her eating disorder but turns out she’s far from it. Eating disorders are among the most deadly psychiatric disorders.

“So, I’m 28 and when I was 11 or 12, that’s when I acquired my eating disorder," Carmichael explained. “So I got an outpatient team of a therapist and dietitian and went once or twice a week, starting at the beginning, and did that all the way through high school, all the way through senior year. All that's to say, it didn’t stick.”

It wasn’t until she was 26 that she finally got the right care.

“I truly hit rock bottom. I was 26 and my two best friends approached me and it was the deepest heart to heart I’ve ever had," Carmichael said. “They opened my eyes to the fact that I was extremely unhealthy in my weight, in my mental state, just the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing or recognize those unhealthy patterns I was doing.”

She left home, left college, and made her way to Denver. That's where she enrolled in the Eating Recovery Center’s inpatient program.

“I completely trusted the system," Carmichael said. "I just completely let go and I completely got my life back."

She is just one of the thousands of people who don’t have the right kind of care in their own community.

“I think it’s upwards of 70% of people don’t reach out because of the stigma and their fear of what it would be like to actually get treatment," said Elizabeth Easton, director of psychotherapy at the Eating Recovery Center. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve actually seen ER visits, for adolescent girls in particular, double.”

As a country, she points out, there is not nearly the amount of recovery centers and resources needed for the number of people suffering.

“I think first and foremost, we need to get the word out more to clinicians, physicians, dietitians of what eating disorders even are so no matter where they live, whatever resources they have in their town, they can identify something is going on and then connect to resources, like us, who have centers across the country," Easton said.

In an effort to help more communities, the Eating Recovery Center has increased its virtual services. 

“We moved to these five different programs to be offered virtually in 21 different states," Easton said.

She noticed, in 2011, how important reaching rural communities and those who don’t have the right resources. However, Easton believes it's now needed more than ever.

“And I remember being pretty astonished that our first few patients even then were coming from more rural towns in Colorado, and then also from Montana, Kansas, Alaska, places really all over the country— even up to the Northeast," Easton said.

In the last year, 72% of their patient population comes from outside of Denver.

“I think part of the reason for the lack of centers and resources around the country is that people really haven’t taken this illness seriously," Easton said. “Ultimately, we know this thrives in secrecy and isolation and that’s why we’re seeing eating disorders in such a worse place.”

Treatment saved Carmichael's life and it can save others.

“I’m two years out of treatment and we still say I am still in recovery, but I am sustaining that recovery," Carmichael said.