Is There Such A Thing As A Cure for Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are mental health conditions that affect the lives of millions of Americans of all ages. Despite the opinions of some, eating disorders are not a struggle that is “voluntary” or “in the head” of the person suffering from medical and mental health symptoms. The statistics from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) indicate the widespread prevalence of eating disorders across the nation. Statistics suggest up to 30 million people of all ages in the United States have a diagnosed eating disorder, and (second to opioid overdose) eating disorders are one of the deadliest mental illnesses leading to the death of one person every 62 minutes.
What are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions characterized by abnormal and harmful eating behaviors. The physical and emotional effects of living with an eating disorder do not stop at weight loss or gain. They can significantly and negatively impact emotional, physical, and social health. Over ten thousand Americans lose their lives annually to complications directly related to an eating disorder, and up to five percent of those with an eating disorder will attempt suicide.
There is no single “cause” of eating disorders, but researchers believe a combination of genetic, social, cultural, and environmental factors contributes to an increased risk of developing one. Like alcohol for someone with an alcohol use disorder, someone with an eating disorder manipulates their food intake to manage stress and feel a sense of control over their environment.
Most Common Eating Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) lists multiple diagnosable eating disorders. Some conditions are more well-known than others, but many share common symptoms.
Anorexia nervosa, or anorexia, is characterized by weight loss, challenges maintaining a healthy body weight for age, stature, and height, and, in many instances, a distorted perception of body image. If you have anorexia, it is common to follow a restrictive diet by monitoring the number of calories consumed or the types of food eaten to control potential weight gain. Some individuals also exercise compulsively or abuse laxatives to further their weight loss.
Bulimia is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a continual binge eating and purging cycle. Purging is a compensatory behavior such as self-induced vomiting or induction of bowel movements, which are designed to “undo” the effects of the period of binge eating. As with anorexia, there are specific diagnostic criteria. The long-term effects of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system and lead to chemical imbalances in the body that can impact the heart and other major organs.
Binge Eating disorder
While this sounds similar to bulimia, it is a different form of mental illness and a separate diagnosis. Binge eating disorder refers to someone eating excessive food in a short time, such as over a couple of hours. However, unlike bulimia, no purging is involved after binging on food. For symptoms to be diagnosed as binge eating disorder, excessive food intake without binging must occur at least once each week over a minimum of three months for mental health providers to formally diagnose an eating disorder.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake (ARFID)
AFRAID, previously referred to as selective eating disorder, is similar to anorexia in that both conditions involve self-imposed limitations on the amount or types of food consumed. ARFID differs from anorexia because symptoms of AFRID do not include psychological distress about body shape, size, or “being fat.” Children and teens with ARFID are generally more than your typical picky eater, as they do not consume enough calories to grow and develop properly.
Is There A Cure for Eating Disorders?
Seeking help to overcome an eating disorder is essential to learning how to manage symptoms. Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness, so it is crucial to seek help at a treatment center like The Meadowglade, which specializes in eating disorder treatment. Currently, there is no “cure” for eating disorders; however, with effective treatment, it is possible to learn how to cope with triggers and stressors that may trigger harmful eating behaviors.
Treatment Options for Eating Disorders at The Meadowglade
There is no “perfect” or single setting for eating disorder treatment. The ideal environment to get help to overcome symptoms will vary based on your unique needs as you enter treatment. Treatment programs for eating disorders vary in intensity, duration, and type of treatments offered. Most treatment plans for eating disorders involve a combination of therapy (psychotherapy), medical monitoring, nutritional education, and (sometimes) medications. How each intervention factors into your treatment will depend on factors unique to you or your loved ones’ specific treatment needs.
The first treatment option is outpatient or intensive outpatient care. The outpatient level of care is appropriate if your medical and mental health is stable and you can remain safe and healthy outside of a residential treatment environment while getting help to overcome eating disorder symptoms. In an outpatient eating disorder treatment program, you will still work closely with a team of medical and mental health providers, including therapists, nutritionists, and medical doctors who will oversee treatment planning and care.
Partial hospitalization treatment is a more intensive care level than outpatient care that still does not require an overnight stay at a treatment center. A partial hospitalization program may be ideal if your health is not necessarily at immediate or emergent risk. Still, daily assessment and therapy sessions would be beneficial as part of your recovery. Unlike someone who may succeed in the outpatient environment, you should consider a partial hospitalization program if you experience (or engage in) habits that further your eating disorder symptoms, such as purging, fasting, binge eating, or another type of chronic weight control.
Inpatient or residential treatment programs are notably the most intensive treatment option available. These programs are the best option if your illness and symptoms are such that an outpatient program cannot adequately address your needs. Choosing an inpatient level of care is not uncommon if you need medical intervention before starting therapy. Residential settings may also be used as a “step down” treatment if you have been hospitalized or need a long-term care setting to improve your mental or physical health before returning home.
A medically unstable patient may present with unsafe or depressed vital signs, unfavorable laboratory findings, and complications associated with coexisting medical problems. Their emotional instability may also increase the presence of suicidal ideations. A team approach is the best method for treating eating disorders in inpatient and residential settings. As noted above, a treatment team generally includes various medical professionals, including a medical doctor, mental health professional, and nutritionist.
Another benefit to residential treatment is comprehensive care. Throughout your stay at The Meadowglade, you will receive care from a medical doctor to address any resulting medical afflictions. This may mean treatment for severe malnourishment, depression, suicidal thoughts, or treatment resistance. Nutritional counseling will help you develop healthier eating habits. And comprehensive therapy will help you identify the feelings that have caused the poor and dangerous eating habits. Mental health professionals can provide many different types of psychotherapy. Each type works differently and may offer varying success rates depending on the individual’s needs. Psychotherapy is also used in non-residential settings but can be provided on a more intensive or individualized basis in a residential program. Below is a quick list of some of the most common psychotherapies used in eating disorder treatment.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT focuses on feelings, thoughts, and behaviors related to the eating disorder. After helping you develop healthy eating behaviors, CBT helps them learn to recognize and change distorted thoughts that lead to eating disorder behaviors.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Acceptance and commitment therapy aims to focus on changing one’s actions rather than their thoughts and feelings. Patients learn to identify their core values and commit to creating healthy goals that fulfill these values. ACT also encourages you to detach from emotions and understand that pain and anxiety are a normal part of life.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
DBT is a behavioral therapy supported by empirical evidence for treating eating disorders, including bulimia, binge eating disorder, and anorexia. DBT sessions focus on the idea that the most effective place to start therapy is by changing behaviors. Future sessions focus on developing skills to replace maladaptive eating disorder behaviors.
The psychodynamic approach to treatment follows that recovering from an eating disorder requires understanding the root cause of an unhealthy relationship with food. Psychodynamic psychotherapists see behaviors as a result of internal conflicts, motives, and unconscious forces. If behaviors are discontinued without addressing the underlying reasons that are driving them, then relapse will occur.
Therapy (behavioral and psychological) is one of the most vital components of successful eating disorder treatment. Achieving your goals through therapy takes time, ranging from a few months to a few years, depending on your specific treatment needs and desired outcomes. The best treatment programs often include various approaches, such as the ones listed above. Each of these treatment approaches provides a different level of support and emotional well-being goals, ensuring you have the proper level of support both during treatment and after returning home.
If you or a loved one has an eating disorder, please know that your symptoms will not resolve independently. Eating disorders are serious, chronic conditions that require mental health and, often, medical treatment to help you overcome your symptoms. Choosing a treatment program where you feel safe and supported as you begin your recovery journey is essential. Our team at The Meadowglade is here to help you take your first steps towards a healthier relationship with food. To learn more about our programs and what we can do to help you or a loved one heal from an eating disorder, contact a member of our admissions team today.