Treatment for Eating Disorders
What is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorder is severe disturbances in the eating habits of a person including their thoughts and emotions. They are often serious and can even lead to death. Among all eating disorders the most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Some people may believe that an eating disorder is a lifestyle choice but that is not the case, it is a disease.
People with anorexia nervosa will think of themselves as being overweight when often they are seriously underweight or at a dangerous weight. They weigh themselves constantly, restrict their calorie intake, exercise all the time and/or force themselves to vomit what they have eaten. This disorder has one of the highest mortality rates of any other mental disorder. Some of those die from complications from starvation and others from suicide.
- Severely restricted eating
- Very thin
- Unable to maintain a healthy weight
- Intense fear of gaining too much weight
- Unrealistic body image, low self-esteem that is heavily focused on weight and appearance
Later symptoms that develop over time include:
- Thinning of bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
- Brittle hair and nails
- Yellowing of the skin
- Anemia and muscle weakness
- Extreme constipation
- Low blood pressure, slow pulse and slowed breathing
- Brain damage
- Lethargic, sluggish and feeling tired
People who experience bulimia will have out of control episodes after eating large amounts of food often with forced vomiting, the use of laxatives, excessive exercise, fasting or a combination of all of these. People with this condition could be slightly underweight, normal weight or overweight.
- Chronic sore throat
- Swollen glands in the neck and jaw area
- Decaying teeth with worn down tooth enamel as a result of stomach acid
- Acid reflux
- Extreme dehydration from purging of fluids
- Imbalanced electrolytes which is too high or too low levels of sodium, calcium, potassium or other minerals
People who have binge-eating disorder lose control over their eating and eat to excess. Unlike people who are bulimic, people with binge-eating disorder do not purge, fast or exercise after their out of control eating habits. They are often overweight or obese and it is one of the most common eating disorders in the United States.
- Eating large amounts of food in a short period of time (for example, 2 hours)
- Eating even when you are not hungry
- Eating quickly/rapidly during your binges
- Eating even when you feel uncomfortably full
- Feeling guilt, shame or anxiety about your eating
- Frequent dieting without weight loss
Risk Factors for Eating Disorders
From nimh.gov eating disorders frequently occur during the teen years and young adulthood but can also happen in childhood or later in life. They can affect people of all races/ethnic backgrounds, genders, ages and body weights. They affect both genders but generally affect woman more than they affect men.
Research is finding that there is a complex interaction between genes, biology, behavior, psychological and social factors. The human study of genes and the latest technology is helping to better understand eating disorders and whether they run in families. Researchers are working to determine whether DNA variations cause an increased risk for developing the disease.
Eating Disorder Treatment and Therapy
It’s important to seek help immediately with an eating disorder because people who have the disease have a greater risk for suicide and other medical complications. They can have other mental health disorders such anxiety or depression and issues with substance abuse. Treatment options may include:
- Individual or group therapy
- Medical care/monitoring
- Nutritional and health counseling
No matter where you seek treatment, whether it be your primary care physician or a mental health professional, you’ll receive benefits from someone who specializes in eating disorders. People who may be part of your treatment team include:
Mental Health Professional – A psychologist, counselor or psychiatrist. If you need medication or a prescription, then it will be a psychiatrist.
Dietician – Someone who provides education on nutrition and meal planning.
Medical Professional or Dentist – Someone who can treat health or dental problems that happen due to the eating disorder
Partner, Family, Friends – These people are part of your support group and are there to coach you through overcoming your disease. They will be active during your treatment and help with your meals.
The most important aspect of your treatment will be psychology treatment. This involves seeing a psychologist or a counselor to discuss your eating disorder on a regular basis. By seeing a therapist, you can:
- Normalize your eating habits and create healthy eating routines
- Achieve a healthy weight
- Learn ways to monitor your eating and moods
- Develop coping strategies when stress, anxiety or depression occur
- Find ways to deal with stressful situations
- Encourage healthier relationships
- Improve your mood
From mayoclinic.org different types of therapy can be used during your treatment such as:
- Cognitive behavior therapy- This type of therapy focuses on behaviors, thoughts and feelings that are associated with your disease. It helps you go back to a healthy state and develop healthy eating behaviors by changing distorted views on your weight and body image.
- Family based therapy- Your family members are involved in your therapy to help you through the process until you can do it on your own. This can be especially helpful for teens who have an eating disorder and their parents are there to help them.
- Group cognitive therapy- When you meet with a psychologist or mental health professional along with others who are diagnosed with the same disease. This helps you address and process feelings that are associated with the diseased and find better coping strategies to handle them.
For eating disorder residential treatment, you will temporarily live at a facility during your treatment. This may be necessary if you need long-term care during your treatment. It all depends on the severity of what you’re going through and what other treatment you have been through.
The most important person on your treatment team is you. You need to be actively involved in the treatment process for it to be successful.