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Eating disorders affect everyone from adolescents to the elderly. They can completely take over an individual’s life and can be fatal if they are not diagnosed and treated appropriately.
A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that as many as 2.8 percent of adults and 2.7 percent of children suffer from eating disorders in the United States. The good news is that treatment is available and can make a difference in the lives of those affected by the disease.[i]
The types of treatment available include both inpatient and outpatient services, depending upon the severity of the condition. The treatments will also differ depending upon the type of eating disorder an individual may be experiencing.
Three Major Categories of Eating Disorders
Regardless of the patient’s weight or body shape, they see themselves as needing to lose significant amounts of weight in order to appear, and more importantly to feel, normal. An individual who suffers from this eating disorder may lose unhealthy amounts of weight by starving themselves and obsessing with exercise.
Another major type of eating disorder is bulimia nervosa. Unlike those who suffer from anorexia, a bulimic individual may maintain a steady, healthy weight or be slightly overweight. This condition causes the sufferer to binge on large quantities of food and then purge the food from their system through one or more of several methods, including the following:
- Excessive exercise
Because a certain amount of the consumed foods will remain in the system regardless of efforts to purge, the overall weight of a bulimic individual may be unaffected.
The third significant eating disorder is binge eating disorder. This condition compels the individual to consume hefty quantities of food but does not compel them to purge or otherwise counter the effects of the food. These individuals may be significantly overweight or morbidly obese.
Many individuals who suffer from eating disorders will have signs or symptoms of more than one condition in a mixture of indicators.The majority of individuals suffering from eating disorders, therefore, are diagnosed with a condition known as eating disorder not otherwise specified or EDNOS. The treatment for this specific diagnosis is tailored to each individual patient to address all of his or her specific needs.
In some cases, the eating disorder may have already affected the individual’s overall health to an acute degree. In this case, it may be necessary to hospitalize the patient in a medical setting in order to stabilize them. For instance, an individual suffering from anorexia may need to gain a specific amount of weight before they can be released to a residential treatment facility.
Once the immediate health needs of the recovering individuals have been met, they may begin their recovery treatment in earnest. It is not unusual for a patient to refuse treatment or become combative in this particular setting.
One significant myth concerning eating disorders concerns the severity (or lack thereof) of symptoms. It is never too soon to begin a treatment program if an eating disorder is present. In the early stages, it is possible to successfully treat an individual suffering from anorexia, for instance. There is no need to wait until the individual has become emaciated or obviously anorexic to the outside world.
Outpatient services can provide a significant level of care for those who need it. Outpatient services also allow for the afflicted individuals to continue their studies or their career uninterrupted. If the patients have children for whom they provide sole or primary care, outpatient treatment will grant them the ability to meet this obligation as well.
A residential facility can offer all of the comfort of a home-like setting, as well as provide constant monitoring of food consumption and continual psychological care throughout the recovery process. A residential facility will often have extra amenities like spacious rooms, luxury surroundings and a staff of professional caregivers who are well trained and vastly experienced in their fields.
Practical Aspects of Treatment
Since the majority of individuals who suffer from eating disorders are young, ranging in age from young teenagers to young men and women in their mid-20s and 30s, the entire family is generally involved in the treatment and recovery process.
One of the most beneficial treatment models for eating disorders is the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program available at most treatment centers. CBT is a partnership between the counselor and the patient where the patient actively participates in the treatment. It may consist of various therapy sessions, including the following:
- One-on-one sessions with an experienced counselor
- Family sessions with siblings, parents or children
- Group sessions with other recovering individuals
The program is designed with a beginning, middle and end to help the patient achieve recovery over the course of the program.
One of the most common aspects of all eating disorders is the skewed belief system they entail. An individual is convinced of some aspect of their person or their life—in this case, their body size—and they react to those beliefs in self-destructive patterns. Learning how to retrain the mind and reaction abilities through therapy is only one aspect of retraining behaviors.
Through the use of alternative therapies, the recovering individual can learn about herself in a very practical way. Equine-assisted therapy is one such alternative therapy. This process involves the use of horses to help the recovering person learn proactive manners of nonverbal communication as well as increases their problem-solving skills. They will learn how to work in tandem with a horse to maneuver the horse to follow directions.
Other alternative therapies might include the following:
- Martial arts
- Art and music
Dual Diagnosis and Eating Disorders
A Dual Diagnosis is a co-occurring or underlying psychological condition that either predates an eating disorder or results from the eating disorder. These conditions might include anxiety or depression, drug addiction or severe trauma. It is difficult to determine, in many cases, which came first. However, recognizing that a separate co-occurring disorder exists can increase the chances that the recovering individual will have a successful recovery when they leave the treatment center.Not all patients will have a Dual Diagnosis; however, it is important that an effort is made to determine if one exists as soon as the patient enters the treatment program.
Medications for Eating Disorders
The only approved medication for the treatment of bulimia is fluoxetine(Prozac). Studies have shown that this medication can reduce the frequency and severity of binge eating and purging episodes in addition to potentially improving eating habits and attitudes, thereby lessening the chance of relapse after a treatment program.[ii] Prozac has also shown some benefits in patients suffering from binge eating disorder, when the disorder is accompanied by some forms of depression.
Life After Treatment
An eating disorder can be treated effectively with cooperation from the patient, family members, friends and the treatment team. Once the individuals have made sufficient strides in their recovery, they can be discharged to an aftercare program that can monitor their progress as they return to a healthy, goal weight and continue to define themselves in ways that do not center on food or body image.
Relapse is always possible, so it is important to maintain honest communication at all times; however, there is a very real possibility for a happy, healthy future. We want to help you regain control of your life. Please call our knowledgeable admissions coordinators today at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline to begin your journey to a healthy life. We can even check your insurance coverage for you. Please call now.