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Eating Disorder Therapy

The therapeutic options for the treatment of an eating disorder present similarities with the treatments commonly offered for drug or alcohol addiction, and this is because although the abused substance is in this case food, the mental processes causing an eating disorder are very similar to those that occur with addiction. While a heroin addict can detox, and rid their body of the metabolites of the drug in an effort to get clean, an eating disorder patient cannot simply stop eating, and this of course complicates the treatment of the disorder.

Depending on the severity and the type of disorder as it presents, the therapeutic approaches may differ, but generally psychiatric medications, nutritional counseling, behavioral counseling and peer group sessions will all be used in the re-education of the patient. Depending on the assessed physical health as is presented at the beginning of recovery, the first period of a therapeutic treatment program may require enforced feeding through IV, or another type of nutritional maintenance, to get the bodyweight up to a safer and healthier level, ready for the healing of the therapeutic programming.

Encouraging Treatment

Eating disorders are to be taken seriously, and are very dangerous and saddening; and about half of all people diagnosed with anorexia will remain anorexic indefinitely.

The mortality associated with eating disorders is significant, and treatment should be encouraged for anyone suffering through an eating disorder. The likelihood of successfully overcoming a serious eating disorder without professional help is slim and as such family and friends that suspect an eating disorder need to get educated, and offer the encouragement and support needed to convince the acceptance of treatment.

Not Really About Food - Treatment Approaches

Eating disorders may present as an avoidance of food, as in anorexia nervosa, compulsive eating or bulimia and purging; but regardless of the manifestation of the disorder, all are destructive and all represent a greater underlying condition, very much like an addiction. Food is being used, or avoided, as a way to manipulate control over an environment, and create false pleasure through unhealthy consumptions. Because food is being used as an answer to the problems of life, much like an alcoholic might drink to forget their troubles, the only way to offer successful and long term treatment of benefit is to educate the patient about the reasons why they abuse food, and also encourage self awareness, contemplation, and professional therapeutic guidance.

Available Treatments for an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders may be treated either on an outpatient or inpatient basis, depending on the severity of the condition. If the disorder has progressed to the point that the health effects of the condition immediately threaten the health and wellbeing of the patient, then the first step to recovery should be medical treatment in an effort to restore health, and possibly restore body weight.

Some people may benefit from outpatient therapy and counseling, but anyone with a serious problem may want to consider a more comprehensive residential rehab facility for the intensive treatment, behavior modification and counseling needed to really break free from the disorder. Whether treated on an inpatient or outpatient basis, the general techniques and strategies of the therapy remain consistent, and only their relative intensity varies.

Individual Therapy

Because an eating disorder is to be considered an addiction, a necessary therapeutic approach to the treatment of this disorder is to discover what causes the compulsion to abuse food, work to resolve the basal issues that influence the disorder, and work with the therapist to develop nutritional strategies, behavioral techniques, and emotional control in the effort to limit the need to abuse food. These therapeutic sessions with an eating disorders professional or psychologist can occur on either an in or outpatient basis, but if the disorder is severe, has been occurring for a long period, or is presenting an imminent health threat, the more intensive counseling of a sequestered rehab facility may be warranted.

Psychiatric Medications

After a psychiatric assessment, medical personnel may recommend that psychiatric therapeutics be prescribed in conjunction with counseling and education, to help minimize the pull to abuse. Anti depressants are commonly used, and SSRI’s have proven very effective in the treatment of bulimia. It is important that medication be used in conjunction with therapy and education, as medication alone is unlikely to offer the patient the necessary resistance to further abuse.

Peer Therapy

An eating disorder can cause a cruel distortion of the mind and even psychical changes in the brain, and this distortion of reality can further provoke abuse. Peer group sessions with other sufferers of eating disorders can enlighten and educate on the shared traumas, compulsions and pain of an eating disorder; and can be a very effective tool in any recovery. Again, these peer sessions can occur while in a rehab facility or on an outpatient basis, but the “compulsory” attendance of these meetings while in a residential rehab facility may be of more benefit  to someone with a serious disorder.

Behavioral Modification

The severity of any addiction is best minimized through the reduction of temptations and triggers to further abuse, and an eating disorder is no exception. Cognitive therapy aims to increase a patient’s awareness of what situations and stresses induce their compulsions and desire to abuse their bodies through food, and how best to minimize exposure to these places, people and stresses in the future.

Nutritional Counseling

When the abused substance is food, it can be important for patients to really understand the implications of food abuse, what may happen to their body during abuse, and to learn the nutritional strategies they’ll need to best minimize the negative affects of the disorder.

Part of nutritional counseling is exposure and consumption of nourishing meals while participating in the rehabilitation process. Food is “IV force fed” only as a very last resort in dangerous situations, and instead patients are encouraged to eat, and monitored on what they actually do and do not consume.

Continuing Treatment

Even if the immediate health threats and behaviors can be bettered through a period of intensive therapy, the disease will threaten for life, and as such a patient must be vigilant and not allow the negative behaviors of an eating disorder to again emerge. Continuing therapy, peer support, and the support of a loving and educated family will all prove beneficial in the long term health and treatment compliance of an eating disordered patient.

The devastation of an eating disorder can be tragic, and it is not a problem that can be tackled within the family. An eating disorder can kill, and always requires professional help. If left untreated, the survival and health prospects are not great, but effective treatments are available, and although an eating disorder should be treated at the earliest possible opportunity, therapeutic intervention is better late than never and there is always hope for recovery.

If anyone you know and love is abusing food, get them the help they need, and get them back on the road to recovery and long term health and happiness.

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Page last updated Jul 21, 2015

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