Treatment for Eating Disorders: Goals & Approach
Individuals suffering from any type of eating disorder should receive treatment for their eating disorder as soon as possible because of the potentially deadly and severe health risks and complications of eating disorders. Treatment for eating disorders can include a variety of commonly used methods including individual and group eating disorder therapy techniques. While there are several different methods and approaches used during treatment for eating disorders, the overall goals for eating disorder treatment are to restore healthy natural body weight.
Goals During Treatment for Eating Disorders
Individual goals during the treatment for eating disorders can vary. However there are some main goals of eating disorder treatment that are common across patients. These goals during treatment for eating disorders are designed to promote long term healthy behaviors and prevent relapse after completing treatment for eating disorders. Some common goals across anorexia and bulimia patients include:
- Stabilize and treat co-morbid psychiatric conditions including mood, anxiety disorders, OCD and PTSD
- Deconstruct urges to binge and purge so that urges can be identified early and emotion regulation skills practiced
- Restoring a normal, healthy weight in patients receiving treatment for anorexia
- Reduce and hopefully stop the occurrence of binge eating and purging episodes in individuals suffering from bulimia
- Treat and reduce long term impact of medical complications
- Teach patients healthy, balanced nutritional habits and help develop healthy, sustainable eating patterns through meal planning and exposures to fear foods
- Identify and challenge dysfunctional thoughts, which are characteristic of their eating disorder
- Improve each individual’s self image, self-control, self-esteem, and behavior
- Provide family tools and education, improve understanding and communication to support long term recovery
- Encourage lasting motivation and prevent relapse
- Encourage healthy coping mechanisms to manage distress, including mindful acceptance and self compassion
Psychological Therapy and Treatment for Eating Disorders
Therapy is perhaps the most important aspect in successful treatment for eating disorders. Psychological therapy generally involves cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, family therapy, or other individual or group therapy in order to understand and adjust to ones temperament and practice new coping strategies, face fears related to eating, body size, shape and weight. Additionally, therapy during treatment for eating disorders can help individuals understand the negative results from disordered eating behaviors. It takes a lot of courage to commit to the changes required for recovery. Psychotherapy can provide encouragement, insight and support to help let go of using restricting, binge eating and purging as primary coping mechanisms.
Medical Treatment for Eating Disorders
Typical medical complications include slowed gastric emptying, constipation, reflux, low blood pressure, instability of autonomic nervous system, loss of menses, reversal of puberty, loss of bone density and stress fractures. Complete treatment should include screening for and treating medical complications that have resulted from the eating disorders. Additionally, a medical doctor or professional is typically responsible for supervising weight restoration in patients recovering from anorexia. Medical monitoring is most important during the early stages of eating disorder treatment as a person’s body adjusts to normal food intake and digestion. Labratory screens, vital signs monitoring and EKGs are recommended. Refeeding after periods of prolonged fasting or after extreme weight loss can be dangerous.
Dietitians and Nutritional Counseling During Treatment for Eating Disorders
Dietitians are experts in nutrition and food science. While in intensive treatment they coordinate refeeding and meal exposures, and provide education and support to patients and their families. Dietitians can help individuals help to learn healthy meal planning and weight management skills. These skills will help prevent relapse and ease them into independent living following partial hospitalization or residential treatment for eating disorders.