Having a good support system will make any recovery process a little easier. Not only will the sufferer have a more structured program to stick to, but they will have resources and people to help when things get tough. A treatment unit should include individual, family and group therapy, support groups, and nutritional counseling, in some cases medications and sometimes there is a need for hospitalization.
Here are the steps to recovery:
Diagnosis – This is not yet a simple system as many GP’s are relatively uneducated as to the symptoms of eating disorders. There are no simple blood tests or diagnostic tools that can be used in order to detect an eating disorder. Eating disorders are also tricky to diagnose as they come in many different forms and present differently in different individuals.
You can take this self test to help determine if you may have an eating disorder.
It is important to understand that most eating disorders do not fit neatly into any of the categories of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, most fall into the category of Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), which is not to say that it is not a serious eating disorder. All eating disorders are serious.
After diagnosis the level and type of care will need to be decided on.
- Outpatient – In this type of program the sufferer lives at home and travels into a treatment center to attend treatment sessions.
- Intensive Outpatient Program – In this scenario the sufferer still lives at home but spends all or many of his or her mealtimes at the treatment center.
- Partial Hospitalization – In this type of program the sufferer divides his or her time between hospitalization and home life.
- Residential – This is full time living in a specialized residence that will involve all meals and snacks being supervised.
- Inpatient Hospitalization – The sufferer is hospitalized. All of his or her time is spent in treatment and this may involve therapy but is primarily focused on getting the patient the nutrition that he or she needs.
The following are different types of treatment; usually all of them will be relevant to the recovery of an individual at some point.
Individual Therapy – In individual therapy, you will be able to develop a one-to-one relationship with your therapist. Once you begin to trust your therapist, you feel much more secure and this confidence will affect the rate of your recovery positively. The frequency of visits will probably depend on the progression of your eating disorder. Some people are in daily therapy when they start to receive treatment, and many people go to a treatment facility due to the level of help that they need initially. Generally, as you recover the frequency of your therapy sessions will decrease. Many sufferers stay in weekly or monthly therapy for years after recovery in order to really make sure that they are on top of any potential relapse. The number of visits will probably depend on you and your therapist.
Group Therapy – Group therapy can be very beneficial to someone trying to recover from an eating disorder, but is more relevant to the final stages of recovery. It is nice to be surrounded by others that know and understand exactly how you feel. Groups usually meet once a week and can discuss anything from the eating behaviors itself and finding ways to change the behaviors, to discussing the underlying issues causing the eating disorder. Group members can support one another and help each other to find ways to change their eating patterns and develop healthier ways to cope.
Family Based Therapy (FBT) – Family based therapy is a specific empirically validated treatment, different from traditional family therapy, that usually involves the people that are living with or very close to the person with the eating disorder. This could include parents, siblings, spouses and even grandparents. FBT has been shown to be one of the most effective forms of eating disorder treatment and is particularly important for minors or children that have eating disorders. Due to the biological and psychological aspects of an eating disorder, especially until the sufferer is fully weight restored, treatment is a full time job. With FBT the parents can continue to help their child recover all the time outside of therapy sessions. Parents who educate themselves strongly on the biological foundations of eating disorders and understand the significant effects that malnutrition poses on their child usually turn out to be that child’s most valuable recovery resource.
Here is more information on family-based treatment for adolescent anorexia and family-based treatment for adolescent bulimia nervosa. This article discusses using family-based treatment on young adults with anorexia.
Family Therapy – In traditional family therapy, a family therapist meets together with the patient and their family in order to help the family understand what their loved one is going through and how they can support them in their recovery.
Support Groups – Support groups are usually not run by a professional. Usually the leaders are people that have experienced an eating disorder themselves. The groups can meet anywhere from daily to once a month. Support groups can be very helpful to people with eating disorders because they realize that they are not alone and that recovery is possible. The members also help and support each other during difficult periods. Each support group is different. Some groups are free to discuss what they feel and others may pick a topic to be discussed at each meeting. Be cautious, because many groups are peer-based and peer led, which is not a bad thing, but it is not a substitute for professional and experienced treatment.
Medical Treatment – It’s important that your health is monitored by a physician that is aware of your eating disorder. There are many physical complications that can result from the eating disorder. If left untreated, they can lead to serious health problems or death. It is important that your doctor is familiar with eating disorders and treats them properly. At the present time, medical doctors and GP’s receive very little training on eating disorders. However, there are doctors that specialize in treating eating disorders and if you can find one of these doctors you will receive more efficient treatment. People suffering from bulimia are also advised to see your dentist for a checkup. Frequent vomiting can lead to tooth decay as a result of enamel erosion from stomach acids.
Nutritional Counseling – A part of your recovery should include nutritional counseling. Eating disorders distort the sufferers perception of food and for this reason, even after recovery, many sufferers need to rebuild their concept of what “normal eating” really is and a qualified nutritionist will be able to help them develop a healthy eating pattern.
Medication – In many cases medication has been useful in treating eating disorders. Antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft have been used in helping with signs of severe depression. Antidepressants can sometimes help a person binge/purge less frequently. Medication should not be used as the sole source of treatment. It should be combined with all areas of treatment.
Hospitalization – If the person’s weight is extremely low or if they are binging/purging several times a day, hospitalization may be necessary. Sometimes a person needs more support then outpatient therapy can provide. The hospital can provide them with a safe environment and help control the eating behaviors. If hospitalization is necessary, they should be admitted to a ward that is familiar with treating eating disorders. Psychiatric wards are usually not equipped to handle eating disorder patients and the person can sometimes feel worse while in there. Some hospitals do have units that specialize in treating eating disorders. These units should provide both psychological and physiological care.
Updated by Tabitha Farrar – 2014
Written by: Colleen Thompson – 2001
Surviving an Eating Disorder: Perspectives and Strategies for Family and Friends by Michelle Siegel, Ph.D., Judith Brisman, Ph.D., and Margot Weinshel, Ph.D. – Harper & Row Publishers, NY, 1988