GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - According to The Emily Program, a national leader in eating disorder treatment, there are approximately 180,000 Minnesotans struggling with an eating disorder right now.

The mortality rate for persons with eating disorders is up to six times that of their peers. An estimated 77 percent never seek treatment.

Most people don’t realize these complex illnesses don’t discriminate by age, gender, ethnicity or economic status.

“Too often, people doubt they – or a loved one – have an eating disorder because they think their problem isn’t 'bad enough;' no one has ever asked them about it; or because of stigma and misperceptions, no one would ever think they have an eating disorder,” confirms eating disorders expert Jillian Lampert. “The truth is that eating disorders impact every spectrum. You can’t tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them.”

“Many people are unaware that eating disorders are an illness, not a choice,” says Lampert. “You may think your loved one is just trying to lose weight, to meet some cultural pressure to be thin or lean, or that they have no willpower. You may wonder: Why can’t they just eat? Stop purging? Stop eating when they are full? The reality is that the signaling in their brain isn’t working quite the way it should. They need support and treatment to stop doing what they’re doing.”

The Emily Program started as a one-person operation in an office in St. Paul that had milk crates for tables and a desk with no legs. Now it's celebrating its 25-year anniversary, with 14 locations around Minnesota and three other states. For more information, check out emilyprogram.com