Since anorexia involves both mind and body, both attitudes and behaviors, a team approach is often best. Those who may be involved in anorexia treatment include medical doctors, mental health professionals, and dieticians. The participation and support of family members also makes a big difference in anorexia treatment success.
TREATING ANOREXIA involves three components:
- restoring the person to a healthy weight;
- treating the psychological issues related to the eating disorder; and
- reducing or eliminating behaviors or thoughts that lead to disordered eating, and preventing relapse.
Medical treatment for anorexiaThe first priority in anorexia treatment is to address and stabilize any serious health issues. Hospitalization may be necessary to prevent starvation, suicide, or a medical crisis. Dangerously thin anorexics may also need to be hospitalized until they reach a less critical weight. Outpatient treatment is an option when the patient is not in immediate medical danger.
Getting back to a normal weight is no easy task, especially for those being treated against their will. Fear of weight gain is extraordinarily frightening to people with anorexia, and forced weight gain even more so. But research shows that the closer body weight is to normal at the end of treatment, the greater the chance of recovery, so weight restoration should be a top treatment goal.
Nutritional therapy for anorexiaA second component of anorexia therapy is nutritional counseling. In nutritional counseling, a nutritionist or dietician teaches the patient about healthy eating, proper nutrition, and balanced meals. The nutritionist also helps the person develop and follow meal plans that include enough calories to reach or maintain a normal, healthy weight.
Counseling and therapy for anorexiaTherapy plays a crucial role in anorexia treatment. Its goals are to identify the negative thoughts and feelings about weight and the self that are behind the anorexic behaviors, and to replace them with healthier and less distorted attitudes. Another important goal is to teach the anorexic how to deal with difficult emotions, relationship problems, and stress in a productive, rather than a self-destructive, way.
|Types of Therapy for Anorexia Treatment|
|Cognitive therapy||Explores the critical and unhealthy thoughts underlying anorexia. The focus is on increasing self-awareness, challenging distorted beliefs, and improving self-esteem and sense of control. Cognitive therapy also involves education about anorexia.|
|Behavior therapy||Promotes healthy eating behaviors through the use of rewards, reinforcements, self-monitoring, and goal setting. Teaches the patient to recognize anorexia triggers and deal with them using relaxation techniques and coping strategies.|
|Family therapy||Examines the family dynamics that may contribute to anorexia or interfere with recovery. Often includes some therapy sessions without the anorexic patient—a particularly important element when the person with anorexia denies having an eating disorder.|
|Group therapy||Allows people with anorexia to talk with each other in a supervised setting. Helps to reduce the isolation many anorexics may feel. Group members can support each other through recovery and share their experiences and advice.|
Helping a person with anorexiaEncouraging an anorexic friend or family member to get treatment is the most caring and supportive thing you can do. But because of the defensiveness and denial involved in anorexia, you’ll need to tread lightly. Waving around articles about the dire effects of anorexia or declaring “You’ll die if you don’t eat!” probably won’t work. A better approach is to gently express your concerns and let the person know that you’re available to listen. If your loved one is willing to talk, listen without judgment, no matter how out of touch the person sounds.
You can also seek advice from a health professional, even if your friend or family member won’t. And you can bring others—from peers to parents—into the circle of support. You can also help by being a good role model for healthy eating, exercising, and body image. Don’t make negative comments about your own body or anyone else’s. And whatever you do: don’t turn into the food police. A person with anorexia needs support, not an authority figure standing over the table with a calorie counter.