Once a woman who is suffering from an eating disorder recognizes and accepts that she has a problem that requires professional help, there are several different levels of treatment. Dr. Dennis briefly describes each of these treatment methods from least intensive to most intensive:
- Outpatient therapy with an eating disorder counselor and outpatient sessions with a nutritionist with experience in treating eating disorders. The more intensive outpatient programs typically meet for three hours, three to five days per week and sometimes include a supported meal.
- Day treatment programs (also called partial hospitalization programs) consist of therapy all day with two or three supported meals, anywhere from three to seven days per week.
- Residential treatment centers include 24/7 care. Their environments are set up to foster recovery. For example, typically bathrooms are locked after meals to help people abstain from purging.
- Inpatient treatment is highly structured and may include tube feedings and inpatient medical treatment to stabilize any life-threatening effect (like heart rhythm abnormalities, blood pressure abnormalities, electrolyte abnormalities and dehydration).
“Treatment for eating disorders is difficult because it involves developing a healthy relationship with food — something that we need to survive!” Wiggins said. “It is not something that we can eliminate like drugs or alcohol. It can be a long process best supported through the help of professionals, with a holistic approach.”
Nolan agrees, and emphasizes that a multi-team approach is best and often recommended for women battling any type of eating disorder.
While many women do not realize they even have an eating disorder, many other women are suffering from them don’t seek treatment because insurance rarely covers residential or inpatient treatment programs. However, there are many free or low-cost group therapy or support groups for anorexia, bulimia and other less common eating disorders in most communities. The biggest hurdle to getting help is the unwillingness to realize the disorder is a problem. Because eating disorders are such private battles, it is very hard for people to admit they have a problem.
“Until a person hits bottom and sees a need for help, usually with a lot of help from friends and family and professionals, there is no hope for recovery,” Dr. Dennis said. “Once a person becomes aware that there might be a problem and becomes open to receiving some help, recovery is a real life possibility, and the sky is the limit in recovery!”
Many thanks to our experts:
Dr. Kim Dennis is the medical director of the Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, and provides a holistic approach in her practice of psychiatry for patients battling eating disorders, addictions, trauma and PTSD.
Marjorie Nolan, MS, RD, CDN, is an ACSM Certified Health Fitness Specialist and the National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
Dawn Wiggins is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who owns and operates a private practice in Boca Raton, Florida. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with a minor in Child and Family Sciences.