Treatment for Eating Disorders Part 1 – The Initial Steps

Eating disorders are some of the most frequently diagnosed mental health conditions.  Although many people associate them with adolescent and young adult females, they actually impact a much greater demographic.  Eating disorder therapists and treatment facilities see a wide range of individuals, including males of various ages and backgrounds, middle-aged women, athletes, and even children.

The three primary types of eating disorders listed in the most recent version of the diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals. They are:

In addition to the above diagnoses, there is an additional category known as “eating disorder NOS (not otherwise specified).” This is for individuals who have symptoms that meet the criteria for an eating disorder, but don’t fit one of the above three categories.

Each disorder has its own unique set of symptoms, although there are a few areas of overlap.  The common thread in all eating disorders is a pathological relationship with food and eating that causes significant problems in one’s life.

Even though eating disorders can be very challenging to treat, proper treatment can be very effective.  The type of treatment that’s best for you will largely depend on the specific type of eating disorder you have.  The particular symptoms you are experiencing will also help determine the best approach.  Additionally, if you have any medical issues as a result of your disorder, your treatment regimen will need to address those as well.  In some cases, hospitalization or an inpatient treatment program may be necessary.

The First Step Toward Treatment

If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder (or symptoms and behavior suggest that possibility), it’s important to understand your treatment options.  But first things first; you need to be evaluated by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker.  If possible, it’s always best to see someone who specializes in treating eating disorders.

Your primary physician can give you a referral for an evaluation if you don’t have someone in mind.  If you live in or near a large city, you may also have access to one or more eating disorder treatment facilities.  Feel free to contact them for guidance in determining the best course of action to get you on the road to healing.  Early treatment is always highly recommended, since eating disorders can lead to serious physical health problems if left untreated.

After the Evaluation – The Treatment Plan

Once you’ve been evaluated and it’s been determined that you do have an eating disorder, a treatment plan will be put together.  Eating disorders are not something easily “fixed” with a few therapy sessions.  For many individuals, learning to manage their disorder and keeping symptoms under control is a long-term process.  Being committed for the long haul is crucial to your success.

Your treatment plan will be based on a combination of things, including:

  • Your treatment goals
  • Your physical health and medical needs
  • Your resources (including what types of treatment your health insurance covers, if you have insurance coverage)
  • The severity of your symptoms

Your treatment plan should be based on a collaborative effort between you and your treatment team.  Your team will likely consist of several different health professionals which may include:

  • A psychiatrist
  • A psychologist or other type of mental health therapist (unless your psychiatrist also does therapy)
  • Your primary care doctor
  • A registered dietician
  • Other medical doctors

When it comes to your treatment plan, it’s vital that everyone involved in your care is on the same page and communicating regularly with each other.  This can be a bit challenging if you’re not working with a treatment team that is part of an eating disorders treatment program or facility.  In a specialized treatment facility, the team is already in place and the members work together on a regular basis.

Treatment Guidelines, etc.

Part of your treatment plan should include a clear list of guidelines.  These are in place so that you know what’s expected of you, what you should do if you’re not able to follow the plan (e.g. you have to go out of town on business, or you get sick and can’t make an appointment, etc.), and what to do if a medical problem or emergency arises that’s directly related to your eating disorder.

Financial Issues

Mental health treatment is expensive in general, but eating disorders treatment is often quite costly.  This is especially true if you need medical treatment or are in a residential or inpatient treatment program.  The devil is often in the fine print, so it’s important to talk to your insurance provider to understand exactly what is covered and what isn’t.

All that being said, don’t put off or avoid treatment because of the cost.  Your physical and emotional well-being – and possibly even your life – are at stake, and you deserve to get better.  Talk to your doctor and/or an eating disorders facility to identify treatment options within your means that you may not have realized were available.

These are just the first steps to take if you have an eating disorder.  Part 2 will discuss the various types of treatment for eating disorders so you can better understand the various treatment options available.





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