Treatment For Anorexia: Ways To Manage And Overcome Anorexia
Updated August 27, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers
Mental health and physical health often have a lot of crossovers, and being able to adequately understand the difference between mental illness and physical illness can sometimes be difficult. When it comes to eating disorders, the person suffering from the disorder frequently experiences mental health issues (such as bad body image) as well as physical health issues (like a rapid drop in weight). Because there are both physical and mental implications when it comes to an eating disorder like anorexia, it’s incredibly important to seek help immediately.
What is Anorexia?
Anorexia is an eating disorder, known scientifically as anorexia nervosa, that affects approximately 1%-4.2% of women in the world. In contrast, only about 0.3% of men suffer from anorexia in their lifetime. As such, women are at a higher risk for developing this eating disorder, but men may still develop it as well. This particular eating disorder is characterized by a variety of symptoms, including (but not limited to):
- Periods of time spent fasting (and sometimes binge eating)
- An abnormal concern with food intake, calories, weight, and fat content
- Fear of being fat or gaining weight, despite being underweight
- Heavily regimented exercise rituals that are completed regardless of weather, fatigue, physical well-being, or other responsibilities/situational factors
- Severe weight loss
- Refusal to eat specific foods or entire food groups (such as carbohydrates or fats)
- Dislike of eating in public or in front of other people
- Cooks meals but doesn’t eat
- Development of rituals around food and meals (such as eating foods in a particular order, chewing more than necessary, or reorganizing food on the plate)
- Loss of menstrual period (for women who are post-puberty and pre-menopause)
- The intense need for control
The physical symptoms of anorexia can vary from patient to patient depending on their individual constituency and the severity of the eating disorder but can include severe stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal issues, dry skin, difficulty concentrating, constantly feeling cold, dizziness and fainting, muscle weakness, and cold, mottled hands and feet. The manifestations of this eating disorder vary greatly and it may be a bit difficult to recognize the disorder in its early stages, so it’s important to contact a professional right away. Different eating disorders have different manifestations, and although anorexia has some overlap with other eating disorders, it’s also important to remember that it’s a very specific eating disorder all to itself.
According to the DSM-5, in order for a doctor to diagnose someone with anorexia, their behaviors should meet these conditions:
- Limitation of energy intake as it relates to requirements that lead to a remarkably decreased body weight in terms of sex, age, developmental trajectory, and physical health.
- An extreme fear of getting fat or gaining weight, despite being underweight.
- Disruption in the manner in which a person’s shape or weight is experienced, excessive influence of one’s shape or bodyweight upon self-evaluation, or one’s denial of the severity of his or her present low body weight.
Always seek professional help and support if you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from the symptoms of anorexia. Dramatic, rapid weight loss is one of the first and most dangerous signs to look for. Treatment options are available, but because this is a serious eating disorder it’s essential to have expert assistance in order to safely and successfully treat the disorder.
How to Treat Anorexia
There are many different treatment options available to individuals who are suffering from an eating disorder like anorexia. Coming up with a treatment plan is a personal process that should be undergone with the support and advice of a therapist or another healthcare professional who specializes in treating eating disorders. That way, the patient receives the best care for their individual situation. Here are some of the most popular and effective treatments for anorexia (and other eating disorders as well):
Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT)
This is a very specific type of talk therapy that is designed to help the patient overcome toxic thought patterns and replace them with new, healthier thoughts. Often, one of the core causes of anorexia-related behaviors goes back to a particular set of thoughts. CRT gives patients the opportunity to reflect on their thoughts and emotions and to practice practical exercises and thought experiments while under the careful supervision of a licensed professional. When it comes to treating eating disorders, including anorexia, working to replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones is one of the most important parts of any therapeutic treatment protocol.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavior therapy is another popular type of therapy used often to specifically treat anorexia (and other kinds of eating disorders as well). It has also successfully been used for substance abuse, personality disorders, and bulimia, a different kind of eating disorder. DBT reasons that anorexia can be treated when the behaviors associated with the eating disorder are observed, understood, and then altered to be more productive and healthier. Practitioners of the DBT methods believe that the most effective way to combat an eating disorder like anorexia is by consciously changing behaviors. Some of the techniques that patients learn at DBT treatment include increased mindfulness, better interpersonal relationship skills, improved emotional regulation abilities, and a higher tolerance for stress.
Family Based Therapy (FBT)
More and more adolescents are exhibiting the signs of an eating disorder, with anorexia being among one of the most prevalent among the younger generations. Family based therapy involves not only the patient struggling with anorexia, but also the concerned family members. For young people with anorexia, FBT can be the most highly effective therapeutic approach. The support and love of the family is incredibly important for recovery, and this is especially true for teenagers and pre-teens who have an eating disorder. Even for older people who suffer from eating disorders, family support can be the real key to a successful recovery.
Hospitalization and Inpatient Care
In some severe cases, anorexia patients may need to be hospitalized for a period of time. When a person with an eating disorder reaches a point where their body weight is too low, their body is depleted of necessary nutrients, and they are starting to suffer physically, hospitalization may be absolutely essential to save their life. Severe weight loss and other physical symptoms such as dizziness and cognitive impairment are signs that the person needs to visit a hospital to recover.
After hospitalization, doctors and psychiatrists may recommend a treatment plan that can involve in-patient care, out-patient care, a combination of the two, or some form or residential care. If the eating disorder reaches a point where hospitalization is necessary, be sure to listen carefully to healthcare providers before making a final decision on what to do and the treatment path to pursue. Eating disorders can be very serious, so there are in-patient care methods that are safe and comfortable for the patient that will help them recover physically (as well as mentally).
Getting Professional Help
Although some people with an eating disorder are able to recover without therapy or medication of any kind, the vast majority of people with anorexia will need some kind of professional help in order to successfully recover. Professional help may come in the form of therapy, medication (if deemed necessary and helpful), or even the addition of simple self-care practices into a daily routine. Eating disorders require a lot of consideration when it comes not only to physical well-being, but also to mental and emotional well-being. As such, working through the symptoms of eating disorders like anorexia can take some time and certainly dedication on the part of the patient as well as the family. You are not alone and there are resources out there to offer support and guidance during times when a family might need it the most.
Talking to a licensed therapist and obtaining professional therapeutic help is the first step toward recovering from an eating disorder once and for all!
Eating disorders take a toll on not only the patient themselves, but also on concerned family members and friends. Anorexia is an eating disorder that is, unfortunately, all too common in the world, and the number of young people (and adults and children too!) who are at risk of developing this disorder is astounding. However, although eating disorders like anorexia can be difficult to overcome and uncomfortable to have, there are many different treatment methods that can be used to successfully recover.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder or from anorexia, our therapists at BetterHelp can offer advice and support. Eating disorders also can have affects on surrounding family who may need professional support to work through their emotions as well as learn techniques on how to be a better support system. Contact us today to set up your first appointment with one of our licensed professional therapists and get started on the road to recovery!