A diagnosis of anorexia nervosa is an important and potentially life-saving step. But, it’s the first of many on the path to recovery. You’re likely aware that effective anorexia nervosa treatment involves multiple elements from medical intervention to psychological and nutritional counseling to social support tools. However, you may be wondering, what exactly does all that mean? While the treatment approach differs depending on each individual’s unique circumstances, here’s what you can typically expect from the process.

The Facts on Anorexia Nervosa

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) states that approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. They define anorexia nervosa as, “an eating disorder characterized by weight loss (or lack of appropriate weight gain in growing children); difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight for height, age, and stature; and, in many individuals, distorted body image.” While it’s commonly associated with young females, anorexia can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. What’s more, it’s not always obvious that someone may have anorexia by merely looking at them.

Genetics, environmental factors, and personality traits all contribute to an individual’s risk. In fact, 33% to 50% of those with anorexia nervosa also have a mood disorder such as depression, and about half of all patients have comorbid anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobia, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).

The Consequences

The health consequences of an eating disorder are serious. ANAD states that every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder. Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Specific health issues related to anorexia nervosa include:

  • Dry, brittle hair, nails, and skin or thinning hair
  • Thinning bone structure that can lead to osteoporosis
  • Loss of muscle structure, weakness, and exhaustion
  • Lack of menstruation in females as well as infertility
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart problems, anemia, and low blood pressure
  • Heart, brain and organ issues and potential failure

Understanding Anorexia Nervosa Treatment

As we’ve already mentioned, anorexia nervosa treatment is multi-faceted. Treatment must address the symptoms of the disorder, the medical consequences, and the psychological, biological, and environmental contributors.

Your treatment team could include:

  • Physician (primary care, pediatrician, etc.)
  • Mental health professional specializing in anorexia nervosa
  • Dietitian

Family support is also crucial.

Treatment can be provided in a variety of settings such as:

  • Outpatient – For individuals who are medically stable and have symptoms under enough control to function and make progress in recovery through weekly appointments with one or more members of the treatment team.
  • Intensive Outpatient – More frequent support, but the individual is medically and psychiatrically stable.
  • Partial Hospital – Individuals may live at home but participate in treatment 5 to 7 days a week as they may not yet be able to function in normal situations without engaging in weight control behaviors or as a transition after an inpatient hospital program.
  • Inpatient – Individuals receive this type of 24-hour clinical care if they are medically unstable, have rapidly worsening symptoms, or are suicidal.
  • Residential – Often used as a longer-term treatment option for individuals who are medically stable but still have psychiatric impairment, this live-in option provides 24/7 care. It may be recommended as a transition after an inpatient program or if outpatient/partial hospital programs were ineffective.

Again, the treatment approach will be tailored to the individual’s specific circumstances; however, the progression of care typically follows this order:

  • Address life-threatening medical and psychiatric symptoms
  • Stop eating disorder behaviors (food restriction, excessive exercise, binge eating, purging, etc.)
  • Establish normalized eating and nutritional rehabilitation
  • Challenge unhelpful and unhealthy eating-related thoughts and behaviors
  • Address ongoing medical and mental health issues
  • Develop a plan to prevent relapse

The types of therapy provided throughout treatment may include family-based therapy for teens and individual therapy for adults. Cognitive-behavioral therapy specifically has been shown to help normalize eating patterns and behaviors and help change distorted beliefs surrounding eating.

Lastly, it’s essential to understand that often the most significant barrier to treatment is the individual thinking they don’t need treatment, fearing weight gain, or seeing their anorexia nervosa as a lifestyle choice instead of an eating disorder.

You Don’t Have to Do This Alone

Treatment can take months to years, yet recovery can progress even if relapses occur. That’s why it’s so important to have a trusted partner throughout the process. As experts in anorexia nervosa treatment with a wealth of experience in co-occurring disorders, we work directly with families to assess needs, develop a plan to meet them, and work closely with you at every point along the way.

For more information on our anorexia nervosa treatment, call 800-219-0570 or email info@heatherhayes.com today.