Treatment of Anorexia
Those seeking treatment of anorexia know that it can have devastating physical and emotional consequences. The first step in getting anorexia treatment is scheduling a doctor visit. The doctor will make an official diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. With early intervention and the right treatment team, patients with anorexia can regain health and develop healthier attitudes regarding food intake. (If you're wondering "am I anorexic?", take our anorexia test)
Anorexia treatments include:
- nutritional intervention
- treatment of medical problems related to the disorder
- psychological therapy to treat the underlying causes of anorexia
Medical Treatment for Anorexia
A major priority of anorexia treatment is to address any serious health complications arising from anorexia. Malnutrition and starvation can have wide-ranging health consequences for those with anorexia, even if it is detected early. Hospitalization may be necessary, depending on the extent of the disorder. Outpatient treatment is also available for patients who are not in immediate medical danger due to their low body weight or complications arising from the eating disorder. The doctor will treat medical conditions such as heart problems or osteoporosis arising from the eating disorder.1
Nutritional Anorexia Treatment
Nutritional intervention is an essential part of treatment for anorexia nervosa. This can occur on either an inpatient or outpatient basis. In general, those who are more than 15 percent below their healthy weight have difficulty gaining it back without a highly structured nutritional program. Those weighing 25 percent below their healthy weight may need to take part in an inpatient treatment program. (Use our BMI calculator, Body-Mass Index calculator)
Weight gain is associated with a reduction in the symptoms of anorexia. Restoring nutrition reduces further bone loss, normalizes hormonal function, and restores energy levels. Often, this step must be taken before the patient can fully benefit from eating disorders therapy and other psychological treatments focusing on the underlying causes of anorexia.
The goal for weight gain in patients with anorexia is usually about 2-3 pounds per week for those in an inpatient setting, and between half a pound and 1 pound for outpatients. The daily caloric intake is gradually increased, up to 2,000-3,500 calories per day. In addition, most anorexia patients also take nutritional supplements, primarily calcium and vitamin D, in order to counteract the deficiencies caused by anorexia. Although the use of a feeding tube or intravenous feeding is typically discouraged, since it interferes with a return to normal eating habits, these methods may be required for extreme cases.
Nutritional counseling, a key component of anorexia treatment, involves meetings with a nutritional counselor in order to learn about balanced meals and proper nutrition. The nutritionist will also assist the patient in developing and following meal plans that provide the right nutrients and caloric intake to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
For children or teens, the Maudsley Approach to nutrition may be recommended. With this approach, parents plan and supervise all meals and snacks, gradually giving more personal responsibility for nutrition and meal planning to the patient. This approach also includes weekly family meetings and family counseling.
Psychological Approaches to Anorexia Treatment
Anorexia Nervosa treatment includes not only the treatment of symptoms related to limited food intake, but also the psychological causes of the disorder. Treatment for eating disorders almost always involves some form of psychotherapy. For children and teens, family therapy is a critical component of treatment for anorexia. Family therapy is often an important component of recovery even for adult patients. Family therapy can help family members understand the complexity of this disorder, as well as identify any family dynamics that may be contributing to anorexia or interfering with the recovery process.
Therapy can take the form of individual or group sessions. Different approaches may work better for a particular patient than others, depending on the underlying causes of anorexia. Adults usually begin with motivational therapies to reward efforts towards achieving a healthy weight. One approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which patients record their eating behaviors, as well as the reactions and thoughts accompanying these actions. Their responses are then discussed during sessions with a cognitive therapist, so that patients may realize the false attitudes and perfectionism they hold about body image, replacing them with realistic beliefs. Another method is interpersonal therapy, which deals with the anxiety and depression often underlying eating disorders. With this type of therapy, patients learn how to express feelings, tolerate change and uncertainty, and develop a sense of independence. In motivational enhancement therapy, the therapist uses an empathetic approach to encourage patients to understand and change their food behaviors.
Ongoing Anorexia Treatments
Many people with anorexia experience ups and downs for many years. In this case, anorexia treatment is an ongoing process. Because many of the underlying causes of eating disorders are life-long, treatment for anorexia often includes ongoing sessions for many years and can include psychological and nutritional counseling as well as monitoring of your weight and overall health, particularly in cases of chronic anorexia.
Last Updated: 14 May 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD