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There are several different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), and each is categorized under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. They are serious mental illnesses that are loosely characterized by abnormal, irregular eating habits, and an extreme concern with one’s body weight or shape. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. The pervasive symptoms associated with any type of eating disorder can cause adverse physiological consequences and interfere with one’s ability to adequately function in daily life. Although eating disorders are life-long conditions, with proper treatment and support, a person can learn to effectively manage its symptoms. 

Treatment Process

There are a variety of eating disorder treatment options available. The path of recovery will not be the same for everyone, as everyone is unique with distinct needs. A personalized treatment plan will provide an individual with the highest potential for a successful recovery. Depending on the nuanced needs of the individual, the treatment process could include any combination of the following components:

  • Inpatient treatment: intensive, inpatient treatment can help address severe malnutrition and other physical health complications that have developed from one’s eating disorder, settings may include:
    • Hospitalization
    • Inpatient facility
  • Psychotherapy: there are a variety of therapeutic modalities used to help treat individuals with eating disorders and may be integrated into treatment plans, some of which include, but are not limited to:
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): can be used to help an individual break unhealthy behavioral patterns associated with his or her eating disorder by identifying and replacing dysfunctional patterns.
    • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT can benefit a person diagnosed with an eating disorder by helping to foster self-management skills, lower stress, reduce anxiety, and learn to control destructive eating behaviors.
    • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT focuses on how a person’s communications and interactions with other people affect one’s own mental health. Through interpersonal therapy an individual will learn to resolve and adjust unhealthy interpersonal problems, resulting in a symptomatic recovery.
  • Medications: there are certain medications that may be used in in treatment plans for eating disorders:
  • Anorexia nervosa: the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has yet to approve any medication specifically for the treatment of anorexia nervosa. 
      • Bulimia nervosa: the only medication that is approved by the FDA for the treatment of bulimia nervosa is the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) known as Prozac (fluoxetine). 
      • Binge-eating disorder: The first medication the FDA approved as treatment from binge eating disorder is called Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine). Antidepressants such as SSRIs (e.g., Prozac) could be prescribed to reduce the frequency of binge eating episodes. Anticonvulsant medications, such as Topiramate, could be prescribed to reduce the frequency of bingeing episodes. 
  • Nutritional counseling: to facilitate weight restoration and body-weight management.
  • Medical care and/ or medical monitoring: to minimize and mitigate possible medical complications that can arise from eating disorders

The treatment plan for an individual diagnosed with an eating disorder will be directly informed by several contributing factors, such as: the exact diagnosis, how long he or she has been actively engaging in unhealthy eating habits, his or her personal health history, and the presence of any co-morbid disorders. The goal of eating disorder treatment is to help an individual find a healthy and sustainable relationship with food. 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

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