Eating Disorder Treatment

Lauren Ranley, MS, RD, LDN

If you recently received an eating disorder diagnosis or have struggled with an eating disorder for some time, welcome to Function Well Nutrition, a safe space for those seeking answers to overwhelming questions. An eating disorder diagnosis calls for a referral to a team of specialists. The treatment team includes a doctor, mental health professional, and dietitian trained in eating disorders. The role of the individual provider is unique to their specialty with respect to patient care. Eating disorder treatment requires flexibility and individualized care – no one person is the same, and not all treatments are the same.

Eating disorders are eating habits that negatively impact a person’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Examples include, binge eating and bulimia nervosa, which involve feeling out of control when eating and purging behaviors (such as vomiting), or restricting, as in anorexia nervosa. Speaking out about an eating disorder is uncomfortable but your health and well-being can be greatly impacted, so it’s important to seek help.

Levels of Care

Depending on your personal history and medical status, different levels of care exist to help you at every stage of recovery. Changing from one level of care to another is NORMAL and does not need to happen in any particular order – recovery is not linear.

1. Outpatient

2. Partial Hospitalization

3. Residential

4. Inpatient

Outpatient: The least intensive level of care, usually the individual is stable medically and mentally while making progress in recovery. Appointments with your treatment team can occur as often as once a week or vary, depending on your needs.

Partial Hospitalization: Increasing the intensity of care, a partial hospitalization program (PHP) provides the structure of a residential facility but allows you to return home to practice recovery outside of the controlled environment. Typical programs offer treatment 6 hours a day, five days a week, but this can vary depending on the program.

Residential: A residential program is where you stay at a facility that provides 24-hour support. This option is ideal for individuals who are medically stable but need more intense treatment than outpatient or a PHP can provide.

Inpatient: The most intensive treatment available, inpatient treatment is needed for individuals who are not medically stable (abnormal lab values, unstable vital signs, and other complications) and may not be able to keep themselves safe.

What Do You Need to Know About Your Treatment?

  • If you have an eating disorder, you may be treated by a team of medical specialists.
  • Your team will work with you to identify your symptoms, explain your eating disorder, and evaluate whether you have any other mental health issues.
  • You and your medical team will work together to create a treatment plan. You will then be provided a plan on how to proceed that is most suited to your needs.
  • Medical attention, proper diet, and psychological treatment are all necessary for a healthy recovery.
  • Having family and friends to help you with your care may be valuable throughout your recovery.

Why Should I Seek Help?

If you feel like you have an eating disorder, you should seek medical advice right away. Eating disorders left untreated lead to serious medical problems and/or medical emergencies. Long-term malnourishment can require hospitalization and disrupt your home, school, work, and social life. Everyone experiences an eating disorder differently and physical signs and symptoms will vary. Common signs that an eating disorder is negatively impacting your body include:

  1. Menstrual abnormalities for females and low testosterone levels for males
  2. Increased anxiety and depression
  3. Low blood sugar
  4. Temperature disregulation – cold extremities
  5. Slow heart rate at rest

Where Can I Find Help?

Finding support feels daunting, but your doctor is an excellent place to start. Health care providers maintain resources for specialty care, such as, mental health professionals and registered dietitians with experience treating eating disorders.

Questions To Ask Treatment Providers

Treatment approaches differ, so work with your healthcare provider to find the one most suitable for you. Having the questions below ready for your doctor ensures you will find the appropriate treatment.  

  • What is the diagnosis? 
  • What treatment plan would you suggest? 
  • During the course of the treatment, with whom will you be collaborating? 
  • What are the other options for treatment? 
  • Are there any eating disorder-related physical issues that need to be addressed? 
  • Are there any psychiatric disorders that will need to be treated as a result of this?

By speaking with your doctor about your eating disorder behavior, you’re taking a big step towards recovery. Remember to be gentle with yourself throughout the process.