Treating Eating Disorders: What are the Options?
Eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia disrupt daily life and without the proper intervention, they have dire consequences on mental and physical health. Treatment can include counselling, inpatient treatment, and nutrition education depending on individual symptoms. Let’s find out what the options for treating eating disorders are.
Why Treatment of Eating Disorders is Necessary
An eating disorder is not a bad habit neither is it something to ‘get over’. It is a psychological condition with severe physical symptoms that are detrimental to both mental health and general well-being. Without treatment, eating disorders have a negative impact on quality of life and can cause health complications that are potentially life-threatening.
Because of the strong psychological basis for eating disorders, recovery cannot be achieved without professional support, individualised therapy, and nutritional intervention. We look at the different types of eating disorders and the importance of seeking the right help for relapse prevention and recovery.
The Types of Eating Disorders and its Symptoms
There are many types of eating disorders, each with a unique set of symptoms that requires a specific treatment plan. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the following 4 eating disorders are recognised and discussed (Psycom):
Bulimia Nervosa includes eating large portions of food in a single setting and without a sense of control over the behaviour. Individuals are also preoccupied with their body shape and weight, but Bulimia includes the use of laxatives, fasting, over-exercising, and self-induced purging weekly for a period of at least 3 months.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Unlike Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa, ARFID includes the avoidance or restriction of food because of a sensory issue rather than a distorted body image or concern with weight gain. It can lead to nutritional deficiencies and rapid weight loss.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder involves extreme overeating with the absence of purging, fasting, or using laxatives and diuretics after binging (as with Bulimia). It causes obesity and health risks such as heart disease
What Are the Treatment Options?
The treatment of eating disorders includes a combination of psychological, behavioural, and nutritional therapy. Depending on the type of eating disorder, individuals may be prescribed medication. In more severe cases where rapid weight loss has compromised body function, individuals may be hospitalised. Let’s take a closer look at the most common treatment options for eating disorders:
Eating disorders are treated with psychological therapy. The purpose is to address the underlying cause for behaviour, distorted body image, and to introduce ways of coping with stress, in relationships, and in everyday life.
Cognitive behavioural therapy treats eating disorders by targeting the thoughts and behaviours associated with unhealthy eating patterns and perceptions. It introduces positive ways of coping by changing unhelpful or distorted thoughts and behaviours. Family therapy is also provided to help individuals with nutrition, attitudes surrounding food, and is especially helpful for caregivers of adolescents dealing with an eating disorder.
An important part of overcoming eating disorders is learning how to restore healthy eating patterns which are achieved through nutrition counselling and education.
For those who are drastically underweight and suffering from nutritional deficiencies, inpatient programmes may be recommended. This includes hospitalisation particularly in cases of dehydration or where electrolytes are low and there is increased health risk such as irregular heartbeat (Medical News Today).
What Happens During Treatment?
Treatment starts with identifying the type of eating disorder and the severity of symptoms through a professional medical and psychological assessment. Therapists will determine if underlying or comorbid conditions such as anxiety, depression, or substance use are present.
Treatment usually involves a team of medical professionals who work on each phase of education and recovery (Your Health in Mind). Treatment will also differ depending on the course of therapy created for individual patients.
Individuals who remain at home for treatment will be required to meet with a psychologist/psychiatrist, a dietician, and possibly a GP on a weekly basis through an outpatient programme. The healthcare team will develop a tailored wellness and recovery plan with a focus on nutrition and
During nutrition counselling/education dieticians and GPs work with patients to teach them healthy eating habits and the impact that poor nutrition has on the body (Mayo Clinic).
Inpatient treatment is recommended for those who do not respond well to at-home or outpatient programmes, or those who are facing health risks. It involves staying in a hospital and then a rehabilitation facility for the duration of therapy.
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What are the Benefits of Private Treatment?
For those who are struggling to improve their weight or who are at risk of health emergencies, private treatment is advised.
Hospitalisation is part of an inpatient programme in which medical complications and life-threatening symptoms must be stabilised before therapy can continue. A medical team will introduce ways of normalising eating patterns and weight after which patients will enter into a residential treatment facility.
Residential rehab includes living at the facility for treatment and is necessary for those who struggle with outpatient care or have been unable to manage the eating disorder for a long time. The benefits of private treatment include:
- Monitoring services can prevent restricted food intake, hiding food, or binging and purging behaviours.
- Support is provided by multiple healthcare professionals and medical staff.
- It is easier to improve weight and nutrition in a residential rehab that offers ongoing assistance and therapy.
- Individuals are removed from an environment that may include triggers or negativities that make their condition worse.
How Can I Prevent Relapse?
Preventing relapse in eating disorders can take a great deal of effort but with support and the proper treatment, it can be overcome. To help you focus on your recovery, the following steps should be a part of rehabilitation:
Reach Out to Your Support Team
Your healthcare professionals are available to guide and support you through your recovery. Rely on them to help you through challenges and health risks.
Group therapy can help you share your experiences with others who are going through similar difficulties.
Identify Triggers and Self-Defeating Attitudes
Work on identifying triggers and negative attitudes in your environment. By working with your therapist, you can create a plan to prevent these triggers from risking relapse.
By seeking the appropriate treatment and support, you can overcome the difficulties and complications associated with eating disorders.