What Is The Most Effective Anorexia Nervosa Treatment?

Updated July 22, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

For those who are dealing with an eating disorder, recovering from both the mental and physical symptoms can be quite difficult. However, even for people who have been dealing with eating disorders for months or years, treatment is possible. In this guide, we will look more closely at what type of eating disorder anorexia is and what the most effective anorexia nervosa treatment is for your recovery.

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that often develops out of an obsession with weight and a fear of being overweight, even if someone may currently be severely underweight. What many people often misunderstand about this disorder is that there are different types of behaviors featured in those with anorexia. The first that is most often attributed to the disorder is restrictive eating, in which someone will cut down extensively on the number of calories that they take in per day. The second type of behavior is binging and purging behavior, which occurs when someone will binge on large amounts of food and attempt to get rid of it through the use of laxatives or by vomiting.

The symptoms of those who have anorexia include:

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  • Engaging in extreme dieting behaviors to prevent weight gain
  • Exercising frequently and obsessively, often in an attempt to further weight loss
  • A warped image and perception of one’s own body and weight
  • Refusing to listen to the body’s hunger
  • An obsession with food preparation and unusual eating habits

It’s important to note that those with anorexia may also be dealing with coexisting mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression. It’s important to watch out for these symptoms as well if they are taking place alongside the symptoms above. These disorders will need to be treated together as individual moves forward in the recovery process.

How Anorexia Impacts Your Health

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The lack of nutrition that one experiences when dealing with anorexia can have a significant impact on the physical health of that person. Although mental health plays a significant role, eating disorders are disorders that need to be treated both physically and mentally. If you have anorexia, learning more about just how impactful it can be maybe a motivator towards seeking treatment. Some of the ways that anorexia impacts health can affect the following areas.

  • The Cardiovascular System: Anorexia and purging behaviors can impact the heart in a big way. When the body does not receive enough nutrients to sustain itself, it begins to start breaking down muscle tissue to get its energy. Unfortunately, the heart is one of the muscles that can be impacted by this process. Over time, this can cause one’s pulse and blood pressure to drop, leading to problems such as heart failure. Another way that anorexia impacts the cardiovascular system is through a lack of electrolytes (this can happen in both those who are binge eating and starving), which can cause your heart to beat irregularly. Over time, this may also prove to be fatal.
  • The Gastrointestinal System: The stomach and the digestive system is arguably one of the most affected areas in someone with anorexia. Purging or starving can cause issues such as severe constipation, muscle loss within the intestinal tract, bacterial infections, stomach pain, nausea, and blocked intestines (which may rupture). However, these are not the only places where ruptures may occur. Those who engage in binge eating disorder may also cause the stomach to rupture while overeating. If they tend to vomit the food after consuming it, esophageal ruptures are also a risk as well as salivary gland infections and pancreatitis. Overall, the gastrointestinal system is at most risk of being affected if anorexic behavior is something that the body has to deal with over the long-term.
  • The Brain: One of the reasons why it can be hard to help someone with anorexia is since the brain can be quite affected by a lack of food, which may make it hard to think clearly. While the brain is not as large as other parts of the body, it needs calories to function correctly. When it is not adequately supplied, this can lead to problems such as difficulty focusing and concentration, trouble sleeping, numbness within the hands, feet, and extremities, seizures and muscle cramps, dizziness, and sleep apnea.
  • The Endocrine System: Hormones are produced when food is consumed. Without food, the endocrine system is also at risk of not functioning correctly. While one may not think that this could be a severe issue, it is quite the opposite. Problems within this system can include lowered testosterone and estrogen (which can result in the absence of periods for women), brittle bones and bone loss, a reduced metabolism (resulting in lower body temperatures and potential hypothermia), and the risk of the body resisting insulin, which can cause Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Full Body Effects: There are some effects of anorexia that do not fall into any one system. Rather, these symptoms can affect the whole body. These symptoms include dry skin, brittle hair, and nails, the growth of lanugo hair to conserve heat, kidney failure, the reduction of certain blood cells, anemia, the reduction of white blood cells.

Remember, these items above are not meant to make you feel bad. In fact, having an eating disorder is not something that you should feel bad about at all. These are simply reminders of what could happen if anorexia is allowed to go untreated and why it is important to get help as soon as possible. However, this can be the hardest step for those with anorexia to follow through on. How can you get help?

The Most Effective Anorexia Nervosa Treatment: How To Start

Because there are both physical and mental effects of anorexia, treatment is often more involved than it would be for a mental health disorder on its own. An effective anorexia nervosa treatment will consist of three parts: nutritional support, psychological counseling, and behavior modification (which may also include other treatment support such as medication or hospitalization). It’s important to remember that the treatment you receive will also be dependent upon the severity of your disorder and how long you have had it.

Nutritional Support

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Individuals who have anorexia cannot thrive on mental health support alone. They will first need to learn how to change their relationship with food and develop healthy eating habits that will allow them to recover. The first step in treatment will begin with assessing the impact of their eating disorder. Once there is a better idea of what will be needed to help an individual recover, clinicians will begin working towards instilling a sense of positivity surrounding weight gain in the patient. They will also begin helping individuals increase their caloric intake in a safe environment, all while teaching them more about how to improve their current eating habits.

Behavior Modification

Mood disorders may often be at the root of an eating disorder. If an individual has poor self-esteem or distorted body perception, it will encourage them to engage in the same behaviors (even if their thinking is not based in reality). To overcome these issues, those with anorexia will also need to learn how to overcome these feelings and begin seeing eating as something that is okay rather than shameful. This will take time but, with the right support, is more than possible. In addition to behavior modification, some individuals who have an underlying mental illness may also need to take medications to make behavior modification more successful.

Psychological Counseling

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Learning to change your way of thinking and go against your habits can be rather difficult. Fortunately, through the help of therapy, you can work through your feelings with someone who is there. You can also learn valuable coping mechanisms that you will use throughout your recovery journey when you encounter difficult emotions.

If you need to join an inpatient program to help you recover, chances are that you will have counseling resources on-site. However, if you may need continual counseling afterward or if you do not have access to the right counseling at the moment, you will need to find a therapist somewhere. This is where online counseling platforms offer solutions.

For example, BetterHelp is an online counseling platform designed to make counseling more convenient and affordable for everyone. You may access BetterHelp from the comfort of your own home. Just remember that you should seek out the right type of counseling for you at this point in time. If you need supplementary counseling to help you cope with certain emotions and mental health disorders, online therapy can be an effective option.

While all eating disorders are serious, some have the potential to cause more problems than others. Anorexia nervosa is one in which weight loss becomes an obsession, and you may take part in restrictive or binge eating (and behaviors designed to remedy it). The good news is that, with the right treatment, anorexia is absolutely treatable. If you are looking to begin your recovery journey, use the information provided above to learn more about this eating disorder and what the next steps can be.


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Eating Disorder Recovery: Learning When To Seek Help
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