Eating Disorder Treatment
Eating disorder treatment can yield significant benefits, including physical and emotional healing, developing healthy coping mechanisms, and rebuilding self-esteem and body image.
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Table of Contents
What Treatments Are Available for Eating Disorders
Eating disorder treatment can be effective and commonly involves different types of therapy and, in some cases, medication or hospitalization.
Seeing a therapist regularly is the most crucial pillar of eating disorder treatment. There are several types of therapy available for eating disorders, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Family Therapy, and Group Therapy. Therapy may equip the sufferer with coping mechanisms, problem-solving skills, healthy habits, improved mood, and more.
Medication alone cannot cure an eating disorder, but it can support a patient through their recovery. Most commonly, antidepressants and antianxiety medication will be prescribed to ease a patient’s mental health symptoms and aid to aid recovery short term.
Registered dieticians can help you understand your eating disorder and develop a plan to work toward a healthy weight. Working with a dietician can help people plan their meals, establish regular eating patterns, and achieve a healthy weight.
Generally, hospitalization or inpatient treatment at dedicated eating disorder centers are for patients with more severe cases of eating disorders. There are different criteria when it comes to admitting patients; these include but are not limited to refusal to comply with treatment, suicidal thoughts or suicide threats, severe anxiety and/or depression, poor response to outpatient treatment.
Types of Therapy for Eating Disorders
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is usually the first treatment for most eating disorders. It is a psychotherapeutic approach that involves a variety of techniques to help individuals understand how their thoughts impact their behaviors and develop strategies to cope with negative feelings. Evidence suggests CBT is the most effective treatment for eating disorders.
Family-based therapy, or FBT, is one of the most successful treatments for teens and children with eating disorders. This specific treatment follows a manual, takes place in an outpatient setting, and centers the family on recovery and treatment. While earlier approaches to eating disorders search for a problem within the family as the cause of the ED, FBT sees family as the solution. By engaging the whole family in the young person’s recovery, parents are empowered to help their child recover.
Eating disorders can be isolating, and group therapy provides an opportunity to connect with others who are going through similar struggles. Group therapy helps individuals improve their social skills and interpersonal relationships. By engaging in group discussions, active listening, and providing feedback, individuals can practice effective communication, empathy, and assertiveness. For individuals suffering from eating disorders, group therapy has proven to be very beneficial when coupled with individual therapy.
Benefits of Group Therapy for Eating Disorders
Group therapy is an important component of eating disorder treatment and offers several benefits for individuals in recovery. Group therapy offers an opportunity for individuals to learn from others who may have faced similar challenges or have made progress in their recovery. Seeing others successfully cope with their eating disorder can inspire hope and provide practical strategies for managing triggers, developing healthy coping mechanisms, and improving self-esteem.
Being part of a group allows individuals to share their thoughts, emotions, and struggles related to their eating disorder. By listening to others’ experiences and receiving feedback, individuals can gain a sense of validation and understanding. This validation helps challenge distorted thoughts and beliefs associated with their eating disorder.
Medication Management Options for Eating Disorders
Medication alone cannot cure eating disorders but can be incredibly useful when used alongside other forms of treatment. Medications may be prescribed as part of the treatment plan, but it’s important to note that medication alone is generally not considered a primary treatment for eating disorders. The specific medications used can vary depending on the type of eating disorder and individual circumstances. Here are some commonly used medications:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These antidepressant medications, such as fluoxetine (Prozac®), sertraline (Zoloft®), or escitalopram (Lexapro®), are often prescribed for individuals with bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. SSRIs can help reduce binge-eating episodes, improve mood, and control impulses.
- Antipsychotics: Some atypical antipsychotic medications, such as olanzapine (Zyprexa®) or quetiapine (Seroquel®), may be prescribed for individuals with severe anorexia nervosa or in cases where there are psychotic features. These medications can help with weight restoration and reduce obsessive thoughts related to food and body image.
- Anti-anxiety medications: Benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam (Ativan®) or clonazepam (Klonopin®), may be prescribed to help manage anxiety symptoms associated with eating disorders. However, these medications are typically used on a short-term basis due to their potential for dependence.
- Mood stabilizers: Medications like lithium or valproate may be used in certain cases to stabilize mood and manage symptoms of mood swings or impulsivity that can occur in eating disorders.
LifeStance Health specializes in Eating Disorder Treatment with multiple locations in 33 states. Services vary by location.
Find a location near you:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Binge Eating Disorder Treatment
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) treatment shares many similarities with the treatment of other eating disorders, but there are some notable differences due to the specific characteristics and challenges associated with BED. Binge Eating treatment places a particular emphasis on addressing the binge eating episodes themselves.
Therapeutic approaches often target the underlying factors that contribute to the binge eating behavior, such as emotional triggers, negative thoughts, or dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Unlike other eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, where weight loss or body image concerns are often central, BED treatment tends to place less emphasis on weight and shape. Instead, the focus is on developing a healthier relationship with food, normalizing eating patterns, and improving overall well-being.
Nutritional counseling for BED often focuses on establishing a healthy and balanced approach to eating rather than specific weight-related goals. The emphasis is on developing structured meal plans, addressing emotional eating, and promoting a nourishing relationship with food.
Binge Eating Disorder treatment often involves addressing emotional factors that contribute to binge eating, such as stress, anxiety, depression, or body image concerns.
Therapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) may specifically target these emotional factors and help individuals develop healthier coping. Binge eating episodes can be more challenging to control compared to restrictive eating or purging behaviors. Therefore, BED treatment may involve specific self-help strategies such as self-monitoring, identifying triggers, and developing alternative coping mechanisms to manage cravings and emotional urges to binge. LifeStance Health mental health clinics offer different types of treatment options for Binge Eating Disorder. We offer in-person and telehealth options. Find a clinic or provider near you.
Outpatient and In-Patient Treatments for Eating Disorders
Outpatient and inpatient treatments are two different levels of care for individuals with eating disorders. The choice between these options depends on the severity of the eating disorder, medical stability, and the individual’s specific needs.
With outpatient treatment patients receive care while residing at home and visiting an eating disorder treatment center or a mental health care clinic for scheduled appointments and therapy sessions. Outpatient treatment allows individuals to maintain their daily routines, such as work, school, or family commitments, while receiving treatment.
Patients are responsible for meal planning, preparation, and following through with their treatment plan outside of therapy sessions. Monitoring of meals and behaviors is usually done by the individual or with the support of a therapist or outpatient team.
Outpatient treatment tends to be less expensive compared to inpatient treatment since individuals are not residing at a treatment facility. However, the cost can vary depending on the specific treatment program and services required.
Inpatient eating disorder treatment involves staying at a specialized treatment facility or hospital where individuals receive 24/7 care and supervision. Hospitalization and inpatient eating disorder treatment are similar in that they both involve staying in a specialized treatment facility or hospital. However, there are some differences between the two.
Hospitalization primarily focuses on providing acute medical care for individuals with severe eating disorders who require stabilization of medical complications. This may include addressing severe malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances, cardiac issues, or other life-threatening conditions related to the eating disorder. Hospitalization involves close monitoring of vital signs, laboratory values, and medical interventions to address immediate medical needs. It is typically a short-term intervention aimed at stabilizing the individual’s medical condition and addressing any immediate risks. Once the acute medical needs are addressed, the individual may be transitioned to inpatient or outpatient treatment for ongoing care.
On other hand, Inpatient Treatment at an Eating Disorder Treatment is typically longer-term compared to hospitalization. The duration can vary depending on the individual’s needs and the treatment program but often lasts several weeks to several months. Similarly, as in the Outpatient settings, It involves a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, including therapists, psychiatrists, dietitians, and nurses. This team provides a range of therapies, including individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, nutritional counseling, and psychiatric support. Inpatient treatment often serves as a steppingstone between hospitalization and outpatient treatment. It provides a structured and supportive environment to stabilize the individual’s condition before transitioning to a lower level of care.
Nutrition Counseling for Eating Disorders
Nutrition counseling is a critical component of the treatment for eating disorders and is typically provided by a registered dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in working with individuals with eating disorders. It is typically integrated into a comprehensive treatment approach that includes psychotherapy, medical management, and support from a multidisciplinary team.
One of the primary goals of nutrition counseling is to help individuals establish regular and balanced eating patterns. This involves creating structured individualized meal plans that include a variety of foods from different food groups, ensuring adequate nutrition and energy intake while taking into account each individual nutritional needs, preferences, and specific challenges related to their eating disorder.
Nutrition counseling helps individuals gradually confront and challenge fear foods or food rules that are associated with their eating disorder. This is done in a supportive and structured manner, with the guidance of the nutritionist, to help individuals overcome food-related anxieties and establish a healthier relationship with food.
Nutrition counseling often incorporates discussions on body image and mindful eating practices. It aims to promote body acceptance, self-compassion, and a balanced approach to food choices and eating behaviors.
Medically Reviewed By:
Jill Matusek, PhDView Profile
Dr. Matusek has published and presented internationally on eating disorders and other mental health issues. In addition to eating disorder treatment, her specialty areas of interest are anxiety and mood disorders, women’s issues, and spiritual concerns.
Eating Disorder Treatment FAQ
All eating disorders can be difficult to treat, and severity is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Anorexia nervosa is typically the most difficult to treat, as many people with anorexia nervosa struggle to accept they have an eating disorder. This means they often fail to access the help they need before their condition is life-threatening.
Statistics show that 60% of those who receive professional eating disorder therapy recover completely. Although anorexia nervosa is the most common cause of death, eating disorders overall have the highest mortality rate of any mental condition.
Yes, in some cases eating disorders become so severe that in-patient care is required for recovery. In-patient hospitalization is the most severe form of care, which provides patients with additional support, structure, medical care, and monitoring.
Both eating disorder clinics and eating disorder treatment centers can help you recover from an eating disorder. While specialized treatment centers tend to be private, with in-patient care offered, and are more expensive, eating disorder clinics will provide you with diagnosis and outpatient care. An eating disorder clinic can be a part of a mental health care clinic like LifeStance Health. Clinics offer outpatient services and provide a range of treatment options, such as individual therapy, group therapy, nutrition counseling, and psychiatric consultations.
Yes, the National Eating Disorders Association has a hotline you can call for over-the-phone support. The NEDA Helpline is available at 1-800-931-2237, by text at 1-800-931-2237, or through the online chat services if you can’t access a phone.
Qualified professionals who can provide eating disorder counseling typically have specialized training and experience in the field of eating disorders. Psychologists, Licensed Professional Counselors and Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) with expertise in eating disorders can provide individual therapy, group therapy, and various evidence-based therapeutic approaches tailored to the specific needs of individuals with eating disorders. They can help individuals address underlying psychological factors, distorted thoughts and beliefs, body image concerns, and emotional regulation.
Psychiatrists can provide psychiatric evaluations, medication management, and collaborate with other treatment providers to address co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder that may be present alongside the eating disorder.
LifeStance provides a detailed online directory of therapists, helping you access the help you need. Select the state you live in and browse what each therapist has to offer to choose the right eating disorder therapist for you.
If left untreated, eating disorders can have dire health consequences for the individual. The specific risks vary between different eating disorders, but common risks include:
- Heart failure
- Muscle loss and weakness
Most insurance plans include some coverage for treating eating disorders, but the amount that is covered depends on your insurance plan, the state, and the severity of your disease.