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anorexia Archives - Suzanne Wallach

What Type Of Therapy Is Best For Eating Disorders?

woman receiving therapy for an eating disorder

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses. They are characterized by abnormal, irregular eating habits, and an extreme concern with one’s body weight or shape. There are several different manifestations of eating disorders. The various types are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Eating disorders can be debilitating and can adversely affect a person’s emotions, health, and interfere with one’s ability to adequately function in his or her daily life. If left untreated, eating disorders can result in severe short and long-term consequences. 

Every individual is different and will react distinctly to the array of therapeutic treatment modalities available. 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. Some of the most frequently relied upon therapeutic treatment methods when treating eating disorders could include, but are not limited to cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and interpersonal therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works by addressing one’s thoughts. It holds the basic assumption that one’s thoughts govern one’s feelings, which in turn affects one’s behaviors. Through CBT an individual’s unhelpful cognitive distortions and behaviors are challenged and disrupted, essentially prohibiting one’s ability to maintain dysfunctional eating habits.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is recognized as an effective method of treatment for an individual diagnosed with an eating disorder. DBT can help an individual learn useful self-management skills, reduce stress, minimize anxiety, and learn to control destructive eating behaviors. DBT promotes acceptance and teaches individuals how to live in the present moment and cope with emotional triggers that may otherwise perpetuate unhealthy symptoms and behaviors associated with eating disorders. 

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) a therapeutic modality that is most often used to treat individuals who suffer from psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders, depression, etc. Interpersonal therapy 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.

When posed with the question: What type of therapy is best for eating disorders? The answer is variable as there are countless factors that must be considered which make it is impossible to provide a definitive answer regarding the universal efficacy of any single type of therapy. In order to provide the most effective treatment, including a variety of different types of therapies into one’s treatment plan may be advantageous.

Disclaimer: 

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 as a means to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

How To Treat Anorexia

anorexia spelled out

Anorexia nervosa, often referred to as anorexia, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as an eating disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, anorexia is “characterized by an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight.” Though anorexia can manifest at any age, research suggests it most commonly develops during adolescence. Individuals that struggle with anorexia engage in a cycle of self-starvation that often results in malnutrition including a lack of essential minerals and nutrients. The list of adverse short and long-term effects of anorexia is extensive, and without proper treatment anorexia can lead to life-threatening consequences. 

Diagnostic Criteria

Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is essential to the recovery process for any mental health illness. Though the symptoms of anorexia can become visibly evident, a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa is reached through a thorough physical and psychological exam. Further, the evaluating provider considers the diagnostic criteria for anorexia, provided by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). To be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, according to the DSM-5, the following criteria must be met:

  • Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements, leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health. Significantly low body weight is defined as a weight that is less than minimally normal, or for children and adolescents, less than that minimally expected. 
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or of becoming fat, or persistent behavior that interferes with weight gain, even though at a significantly low weight.
  • Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight. 

Atypical anorexia is diagnosed when an individual meets the above criteria but despite significant weight loss, is not medically considered underweight. It is important to note that an individual may still be struggling with a serious eating disorder even if all of the DSM-5 criteria for anorexia are unmet. 

Treatment

Every individual is different and will require a tailored treatment plan when it comes to recovering from anorexia. Treatment plans often include a multidisciplinary approach. According to the Mayo Clinic a clinical treatment team for an individual diagnosed with anorexia could include doctors, mental health professionals and dietitians. 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 could include:
    • Hospitalization
    • Inpatient facility
  • Psychotherapy: there are a variety of therapeutic modalities used to help treat individuals with anorexia, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), interpersonal psychotherapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, creative arts therapies, and more. 
  • Medications: certain medications (e.g. antipsychotic: Zyprexa) can be prescribed to help with weight gain
  • Nutrition counseling: used to help individuals learn how to restore normal eating patterns and teach a healthy approach to weight and food

The Mayo Clinic asserts, “One of the biggest challenges in treating anorexia is that people may not want treatment.” Although anorexia is a considered to be a chronic disorder, with proper treatment an individual can learn how to effectively manage its symptoms and go to on lead a healthy and fulfilling life. 

Disclaimer: 

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 as a means to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.