What Can I Expect During My Anorexia Recovery Program?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

People living with eating disorders such as anorexia have several treatment options, including medication, therapy, and inpatient, outpatient, or online recovery programs. The media may portray inpatient recovery centers as sterile or unhelpful places for people living with psychiatric disorders, but these portrayals are often unfair and inaccurate. Joining an anorexia recovery program may be the most effective treatment option for those with eating disorders who are hoping to move past their diagnosis. Although everyone’s experience will be different, a recovery program may be the right fit for your situation. We’ll be exploring what these recovery programs can look like and how they can be beneficial if you’re living with an eating disorder such as anorexia. 

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The symptoms of anorexia can be hard to overcome on your own

What is anorexia?

Over 28 million people in the United States are living with an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is one type of eating disorder that causes people to struggle with their body image and display a strong focus on losing weight or maintaining a low weight, even if they are already underweight. People with anorexia may use various methods to prevent themselves from gaining weight, including severely restricting the amount of food they consume, vomiting after eating or using laxatives and/or diuretics to expel consumed food.

Research on anorexia has mainly focused on women impacted by the disorder, but anyone can experience eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder. However, men living with an eating disorder may display different symptoms because they are presented with differing cultural standards regarding an ideal body image. Men with anorexia may seek to have a physique that is more muscular and toned, while women may be more likely to idealize extreme thinness.

What to expect at an inpatient anorexia recovery program

If you’re considering joining an inpatient anorexia recovery program, knowing what to expect may help you feel more comfortable getting started with obtaining the care you need. Unlike what’s often shown on television and in the movies, inpatient mental health care is a supportive way to get help moving past your mental health challenges.

After checking in to an inpatient recovery program, the staff will examine your suitcases for laxatives or other harmful substances. It may be useful to contact the facility ahead of time to see what is allowable to bring inside. Packing personal effects, like photos, letters, or other reminders of home, may help you adjust to your new environment. 

During your stay, your meals will likely be scheduled, and most programs require regular weigh-ins and labs. Once your treatment plan is established, you may have daily therapy sessions, nutritional counseling, or other medical appointments throughout the day. The goal of inpatient anorexia recovery programs is to help you regain a healthy weight and reframe your thinking around food and weight loss.

Other treatment options for anorexia

If an impatient recovery program isn’t the right fit for you, there are several other treatment options available for you to try. The most effective treatment plans vary from person to person, but overcoming anorexia is possible with a specialized plan that considers your needs and circumstances. 

Therapy is a common treatment method for anorexia nervosa because it helps individuals with an eating disorder unpack the root cause of the condition. One specific type of therapy, called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), may help individuals with anorexia change their ingrained coping mechanisms and reform their opinions and attitudes toward food.

Nutritional counseling can also benefit individuals with anorexia. These programs help encourage healthy eating patterns and guide individuals toward achieving a healthy weight.

As previously mentioned, inpatient anorexia recovery programs are also available. These programs may provide more direct supervision and support for individuals who may have developed serious medical conditions because of their anorexia. These programs have the added benefit of helping those with an eating disorder develop a support group of other individuals with similar challenges. Eating disorder recovery programs may include psychotherapy, group therapy, medication, and nutrition counseling. However, each person is given a unique plan tailored to their symptoms and needs.

Some people living with eating disorders are prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to help them cope with comorbid mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. As of now, there are no medications on the market designed specifically to treat anorexia.

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Causes and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

Many factors may contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa, particularly hereditary factors. First-degree relatives of people who have developed anorexia are ten times more likely to develop it themselves. Other factors include an individual’s environment and propensity towards anxious or obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Because thin bodies are highly prized and desired in today’s society, some people, such as young girls, may feel pressure to obtain a certain body image.

Individuals with a history of trauma, including abuse, neglect, or sexual assault, may be vulnerable to experiencing an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. An eating disorder may also be more common in people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Peer pressure or bullying may also drive the development of anorexia.

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Anorexia may negatively impact your mental and physical health. Symptoms may include:

  • Increased irritability
  • Constantly weighing, measuring, or examining your body
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • A lower sex drive
  • An emotionless affect

Someone with anorexia may display certain behaviors, such as:

  • Finding excuses to avoid eating
  • Displaying an intense fear of gaining weight
  • Following strict food rituals, such as spitting out food after chewing it
  • Attempting to cover up the body with layers of clothing
  • Avoiding eating out in public

Online therapy with BetterHelp

Inpatient anorexia recovery programs may be a helpful option for some people living with anorexia, but if you’re looking for outpatient support, online therapy through BetterHelp can be an effective treatment modality. Online therapy may be particularly beneficial for individuals living with an eating disorder because it allows them to get supportive care when they need it most. After matching with an online therapist, sessions can be scheduled in advance, and therapists may accept online chat messaging so you can reach out to them in moments you need additional support. Since an individual’s environment, including their social relationships, lifestyle, and home life, may influence their likelihood of developing anorexia, attending therapy from home may help you to get to the root of what caused your anorexia to develop.

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The symptoms of anorexia can be hard to overcome on your own

The efficacy of online therapy

Online therapy can be an effective method of treatment for a variety of mental health conditions. Early studies into the effectiveness of online therapy for eating disorders are promising, with beneficial effects regarding the prevention of eating disorders, treatment, and relapse prevention. Participants in this study saw improvements in their “drive for thinness and weight concern” by the end of the intervention and at a post-follow-up, showing the efficacy of online-based therapy for treating eating disorders like anorexia.

Takeaway

Anorexia is a complex illness, but support is available to help those living with eating disorders regain their mental and physical well-being. Inpatient or outpatient treatment plans, along with other kinds of interventions, may support individuals living with anorexia nervosa. If you’re looking for eating disorder support that’s convenient and affordable, online therapy might be a viable option to consider. Working alongside a therapist, you can learn to manage your symptoms and overcome the obstacles holding you back in life. 
Healing from eating disorders is possible
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