Treatment For Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are inherently complicated. They revolve entirely around an individual’s relationship with food. Unlike addictions to substances or certain behavioral addictions, a person with an eating disorder must eat for survival; cutting out food is not an option. While Anorexia nervosa (anorexia) and Bulimia nervosa (bulimia) are perhaps the most recognized, there are other eating disorders, too:
- Binge eating disorder
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
- Other specified feeding and eating disorder (OSFED)
Regardless of the specific diagnosis, eating disorders interfere with the individual’s mental and physical health and because many symptoms overlap or change over time, determining an accurate diagnosis can be difficult.
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Treatment Options For Eating Disorders
Identifying the proper treatment for eating disorders depends on both the type of disorder as well as the associated symptoms. Depending on the severity of the illness, treatment is administered in an inpatient or outpatient setting; both options usually involve some form of medication, too.
For instances of severe eating disorders, inpatient treatment (or hospitalization) might be the recommended route. The highest level of care available, inpatient treatment involves around-the-clock care and requires the individual to reside at the hospital or treatment center for the duration of their treatment.
Inpatient care is usually appropriate for individuals suffering from a medical crisis, such as unsteady vital signs, severe or worsening symptoms, eating disorder-induced complications, or suicidal thoughts. The overall aim is to stabilize a person’s condition before moving forward with other methods of treatment. When someone completes this level of care or has been deemed stable by medical professionals, they are often referred to an outpatient, partial hospitalization, or residential program, depending on the individual’s needs.
Directly following inpatient hospitalization is residential treatment. Similar to inpatient care, residential treatment also requires the individual to stay in the facility throughout the entirety of their treatment.
Residential treatment centers are set up to ensure residents are monitored 24/7. This level of care is a great option for someone who does not need the intensity found in a hospital setting, but still requires daily check-ins. For example, if someone has had difficulty in the accountability of outpatient treatment settings and needs an added level of support for their eating disorder, they might benefit from residential treatment. The duration of treatment depends largely on the program and the patient’s needs.
There are other benefits associated with residential treatment such as group and individual counseling sessions, along with other alternative forms of therapy. Additionally, patients will usually receive medication and medical monitoring, nutritional counseling, and education on healthy routines. Overall, the experience is more holistic and incorporates practices meant to not only help the individual overcome their eating disorder, but teaches them healthy and sustainable habits to carry forward.
In a partial hospitalization treatment plan, the individual remains living in their home and commutes to a facility. The partial hospitalization level of care is more intensive than regular or even intensive outpatient programs, but because the individual does not completely pause their outside life to move into a treatment center, the care/treatment is not as all-encompassing as the former options.
A partial hospitalization program usually operates during normal daytime hours and is open several days a week. Treatment at this level is usually beneficial for someone who displays an inability to perform certain responsibilities and engages in daily binging, purging, or restricting, yet is not quite in immediate danger. Typically in a partial hospitalization setting, patients will attend both group and individual counseling sessions.
Individuals who require this level of care likely have a low to moderate severity of symptoms and don’t generally need daily monitoring. For those attending outpatient programs, their eating disorder may not greatly affect and upheave their daily lives. Many attend outpatient treatment after completing more intensive care.
Outpatient treatment offers flexibility to patients, where they can receive treatment multiple times per week, while still residing at home and fulfilling other responsibilities like work, school, or family care. There are many options for outpatient treatment that vary in operation frequency as well as number of sessions.
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Therapeutic Interventions For Eating Disorders
For those with an eating disorder, the varying forms of inpatient and outpatient treatment are not the only options. Many therapeutic approaches are available to help people recover and overcome issues related to eating disorders, as well.
A commonly used method in treating eating disorders is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). A therapist can utilize CBT to help a client identify irrational thoughts and beliefs that may trigger symptoms associated with the eating disorder. Through hard work and perseverance, the client gains awareness and learns to form new thought patterns and belief systems that support a healthier relationship with food and eating behaviors.
Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is another therapy commonly used to treat binge eating disorders or bulimia as it looks to improve internal functioning by addressing current issues rather than those of the past. Similarly, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) aims to change behaviors associated with eating disorders and helps individuals manage difficult emotions.
When someone seeks treatment for an eating disorder, in any of its forms, they can expect a change in their lifestyle, and improvement in their relationship with food, self-esteem, and body image. By learning about nutrition and developing healthy routines, individuals should leave treatment with a myriad of tools and coping mechanisms designed to support them as they move forward and create an overall healthier life.
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Get Help For An Eating Disorder Today
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, there are options available to you; you are not alone. Reach out to a treatment provider today to discuss your concerns and learn about your treatment options.
Amber Biello-Taylor, CAP, LCSW
Amber Biello-Taylor is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP) with over 10 years of professional addiction treatment experience.
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