Treatment of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders affect people of all ages, genders, races, and sizes. People may experience severe mental, physical, and emotional symptoms. Of all mental health disorders, eating disorders have one of the highest fatality rates making treatment for eating disorders crucial.
What is an Eating Disorder?
A complex mental health disorder, an eating disorder, is an unhealthy relationship with food, weight, or appearance. The dangerous eating behaviors people develop can significantly impact the body’s ability to get proper nutrition.
While eating disorders typically develop in teens and young adults, they can happen at any age. The exact cause of an eating disorder isn’t fully understood. However, research shows a combination of genetic, biological, behavioral, social, and psychological factors increases the risk of development.
What are the Different Types of Eating Disorders?
Approximately 30 million Americans struggle with an eating disorder. There is a variety of eating disorders, but the Fifth Edition Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) recognizes the following as eating disorders:
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Individuals with anorexia nervosa restrict their food and calorie intake. Often it gets extreme and leads to starvation. Anorexia affects people of all body sizes.
This eating disorder is characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight and not eating a healthy diet. Long-term anorexia can lead to malnutrition and severe health issues, which include:
- Feeling tired and weak
- Osteoporosis and growth issues in children and young adults
- Irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, heart failure, heart valve disease
- Trouble concentrating
- Memory issues
- Kidney problems
- Constipation, diarrhea, stomach pains
- Weakened immune system
Anorexia is a life-threatening disease. Physical complications and suicide are the leading causes of death due to anorexia nervosa.
What is Bulimia Nervosa?
Bulimia nervosa is a disease where people binge eat or think they eat large meals in a short time. After binge eating, they vomit, use laxatives, or over-exercise to purge their bodies of the calories. Unlike those with anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia often gain or maintain their weight.
Complications that may arise due to bulimia include:
- Feeling tired and weak
- Dental issues – stomach acid from constant vomiting damages tooth enamel
- Dry hair and skin
- Brittle fingernails
- Swollen glands
- Muscle spasms
- Heart, kidney, and bowel problems
- Bone issues such as osteoporosis
Bulimia is often hard to spot since people usually do it privately, but it is crucial that those that suffer from bulimia seek treatment for eating disorders.
What is a Binge Eating Disorder?
A binge eating disorder, or BED, is when a person losses control of his or her eating. Like bulimia, binge eaters eat large amounts of food in a short time. However, with binge eating disorders, people do not purge their bodies of calories.
People who struggle with a binge eating disorder are often overweight or obese. And while binge eating can start at any age, people typically begin developing this unhealthy eating pattern in their older teens and early 20s.
Complications from a binge eating disorder include:
- High risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, gallbladder disease, and heart disease
- Increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as depression
Binge eating disorders may be challenging to spot as most people binge eat in private. If you struggle with binge eating disorders, it is crucial to seek treatment of eating disorders.
What is Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?
Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is characterized as failing to meet daily nutritional requirements. This typically develops due to a lack of interest in eating or a fear of the consequences of eating due to things like choking. People with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder may also avoid specific sensory characteristics of food like color, smell, or texture.
The development of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is not due to a fear of weight gain. However, it can result in extreme weight loss or failure to gain weight and health issues from nutritional deficiencies. Eating disorders therapy can help people overcome their unhealthy thinking about food.
Who is High Risk for Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders do not discriminate. They can affect all genders, races, and ages. But, certain risk factors increase the chances of developing an eating disorder. These factors include:
- Family history of eating disorders, mental health disorders, or addiction
- History of physical, emotional, or sexual trauma
- Personal history of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder
- History of dieting
- People with diabetes – almost one-fourth of women diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes develop an eating disorder
- Being a model or athlete
- Being a perfectionist
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders?
Typically you can’t recognize an eating disorder by looking at someone. A person of any size can have an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect how people think and relate to food, not necessarily how much they weigh or how big or small they are.
It can often be difficult to spot an eating disorder since it mimics dieting. While each eating disorder has specific signs and symptoms, there are general visible changes to look for.
- Fatigue, fainting, dizziness
- Mood swings
- Hair loss or thinning
- Using the restroom immediately after eating
- Drastic or unexplained weight loss
- Abnormal sweating or hot flashes
- Isolating from friends or family
- Eating alone
- Hiding or throwing away food
- Fixation on weight loss, exercise, and calories
Getting a Diagnosis is the First Step in How to Treat an Eating Disorder
Once a person recognizes that he or she needs an eating disorder treatment plan, the first step is making a doctor’s appointment. Both physicians and mental health professionals can diagnose eating disorders.
A primary care physician often does a physical exam, orders blood work, and reviews symptoms to make a diagnosis. In comparison, a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist conducts mental evaluations to understand the beliefs involving food and a person’s eating habits.
Eating disorders are diagnosed using the criteria outlined in the DSM-5. These criteria are broken down by specific eating disorders. However, a person doesn’t need to meet all the criteria to receive a diagnosis. In fact, a person may still need eating disorders therapy even though they don’t meet any criteria in the DSM-5.
Inpatient Treatment of Eating Disorders: How to Treat an Eating Disorder
Inpatient treatment of eating disorders is typically for people with severe mental and physical issues or those with anorexia who are struggling to gain weight. Anorexia can lead to life-threatening health issues requiring emergency medical care.
Inpatient treatment of eating disorders focuses on stabilizing medical issues at the beginning stages of a person’s eating disorder treatment plan. Once a person is stable, he or she enters outpatient treatment to complete his or her eating disorder treatment plan.
Some people have struggled with eating disorders for many years. Many have been in and out of eating disorders therapy with no success. Inpatient treatment provides long-term care for both eating disorders and the hard-to-treat mental and physical struggles that are associated with eating disorders.
What is Outpatient Treatment of Eating Disorders?
People with eating disorders typically seek outpatient treatment. This treatment allows people to still work and take care of their families while attending eating disorders therapy.
Most outpatient treatment centers offer various types of treatment, such as intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) and general outpatient treatment. Depending on the type of treatment, people spend up to 6 days a week in therapy.
Eating Disorders Therapy: How to Treat an Eating Disorder
Whether a person enters inpatient or outpatient treatment of eating disorders, that person’s time in treatment is spent in therapy. An eating disorder treatment plan may include a combination of therapy, education, and medication. The types of therapies used in the treatment of eating disorders depend on the type of eating disorder and the type of any co-occurring mental health issues.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to Treat an Eating Disorder
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of talk therapy. CBT is helpful because it helps people quickly identify their challenges. CBT also helps people learn healthy coping skills.
The basic principles of CBT for eating disorders treatment include:
- Unhealthy negative thinking patterns encourage the problem
- Negative behavior is partly to blame for eating disorders
- CBT provides healthy coping skills and builds healthy thinking
Although CBT typically comes with no risks, a trained professional can provide gentle psychological care to encourage change.
What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy in the Treatment of Eating Disorders?
Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a form of CBT. However, DBT focuses on social and psychological factors. Thus, to help people understand and control their emotional reactions, DBT works on these four specific areas:
- Mindfulness – the practice of being fully aware in the present moment
- Distress tolerance – learning to tolerate distressing feelings
- Interpersonal Effectiveness – expressing one’s needs and setting healthy boundaries
- Emotional regulation – learning to change unhealthy emotions
DBT is most beneficial when used in both individual and group therapy sessions.
Are There Lasting Health Issues from Eating Disorders?
The mental health struggles of eating disorders can lead to serious health problems. The types of health problems depend on the eating disorder and its severity. Many times the problems caused by not seeking eating disorders therapy need ongoing treatment.
These issues may include:
- Electrolyte imbalances that can interfere with muscle, heart, and nerve function
- High blood pressure and heart issues
- Digestive problems
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Cavities and erosion of the enamel from frequent vomiting
- Stunted growth
- Infertility or lack of menstrual cycle
Get Help Today for Eating Disorders at Renewed Light
If you are like millions of Americans struggling with an eating disorder, our therapists at Renewed Light can help you find recovery. Take the first step and contact us today to find out how we can help you.