Dr. Elayne Daniels

Eating disorders are serious, complex, and often debilitating. They’re also treatable. Eating disorder solutions, however, are not the same across the spectrum of eating disorders. So finding the one that is most effective for you is critical to successful treatment. 

But where do you even start?

If you guessed “eenie, meenie, miney, mo,” try again. 

Take a blood test? Nope. 

Then how? 

First, a refresher about eating disorders.

Eating disorders affect millions of people around the world, and their symptoms cause physical, emotional, and psychological harm. 

Recovery can be long and difficult. 

But also completely possible.

Recovery prognosis improves the earlier an eating disorder is detected.

Finding effective eating disorder solutions requires understanding your unique needs and being willing to embrace the recovery process.

Education, treatment, support, and self-care are central to helping you overcome an eating disorder so you can reclaim your life.

Let’s talk about each in detail.

Education:

If you suspect you may have an eating disorder, start the learning process with a self-screening tool.

Concerned that someone you care about – a child, a friend – may have an eating disorder? Pass along a self-screening tool. Doing so is a non-threatening, non-judgmental way to help.

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders. 

People unfamiliar with the full breadth of eating disorders are often quick to assume they fit into these three categories. 

But remember, eating disorders are complex and complicated. And they manifest in diverse and often non-specific ways.

Additional eating disorders include: 

  • Otherwise Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED) 
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) 
  • Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).

Every person’s experience with an eating disorder is unique, and symptoms vary.

And that means treatment methods vary, too.

Treatment:

To make a decision about treatment options, knowing which eating disorder diagnosis you have is helpful. 

Many different approaches to treating eating disorders are available, including psychotherapy, medication, and nutritional counseling.

One of the most important steps in finding the right solution is seeking help from an eating disorder-informed healthcare professional. 

A mental health professional or medical doctor with expertise in treating people with eating disorders can help diagnose an eating disorder and offer treatment recommendations.

The right treatment for you will depend on a bunch of different factors, including the severity and type of disorder and your personal preferences, resources, and needs.

The following categories of treatment options are not mutually exclusive. To the contrary, they are most effective in combination with each other, based on the patient’s specific needs.

Below are some insights into the various forms of eating disorder treatment, along with recommendations for ensuring you get the best treatment for you.

  • Research treatment options in your area.
  • Here are a few informative, trustworthy websites to get you started:
  • Medication can be helpful when treating eating disorders. But it is intended to be an adjunct to psychotherapy and other forms of treatment, not a treatment in itself.
    • The process of finding the most effective medication(s) often involves “trying-and-tweaking.”
    • Pay attention to any changes – positive, negative, physical, emotional, and behavioral.
    • And always communicate these changes to your prescriber and/or therapist.
    • Antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers are often used to treat eating disorder symptoms.
  • Be diligent and patient in your search for an eating disorder specialist who provides therapy.
    • The therapist should be trained and experienced in treating eating disorders.
    • A therapist with seven specialties is unlikely to be sufficiently trained in eating disorders.
    • And an insufficiently trained therapist can unintentionally do more harm than good.

      .
  • Eating disorders require specialized treatment
    Sometimes the challenge of finding the right specialist is made worse by the challenge of finding one who accepts your insurance.

    If you run into this problem, consider asking your insurance company to reimburse you if you self-pay and submit a superbill.

    You can also ask your insurance company and provider for a single-case agreement in which the insurance company pays the provider directly.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and family-based therapy are common, evidence-based treatments for eating disorders.

    For teens with restrictive tendencies, family-based treatment is highly effective.
  • Medical Management
    • Medical management is essential in eating disorder treatment. It may include monitoring of labs and treating electrolyte imbalances, malnutrition, and other physical symptoms.
  • Nutritional counseling
    • A registered dietitian trained in eating disorders can help you develop a nutritionally adequate eating plan tailored to your individual needs and goals. 
    • The dietician can also help you bust nutrition myths and Diet Culture rhetoric, such as the good food/bad food dichotomy and “healthy lifestyle” tips that are really diets in disguise.
  • Higher Levels of Care

    Sometimes treatment at a higher level of care is needed to provide an individualized solution for an eating disorder. After all, eating disorder solutions aren’t one-size-fits-all (pun intended).

Support: Ensuring you’re not alone on the journey.

The process of acknowledging an eating disorder and then exploring options for its treatment takes lots of self-awareness, courage, and vulnerability. 

Surrounding yourself with people who understand the eating disorder and offer encouragement and support can be a lifeline (and a loveline) on your journey in recovery. 

You may find support in family, friends, therapists, support groups, medical professionals, or some combination of all of them. What matters is that you always know that you never have to recover alone.

Self-care: Trusting and loving yourself because you are so worth it.

When someone has an eating disorder, self-care usually isn’t a priority. To incorporate self-care, start slowly and with the intention that each day will include deliberate, mindful self-care.

How do you prioritize self-care while seeking treatment options?

Here are 9 tips to help you advocate for your own well-being:

  1. Make time for self-care activities: Set aside time each day for activities that bring you joy, such as reading, going on mindful walks, or spending time in nature.
  2. Practice self-compassion: Be kind and understanding toward yourself, and speak to yourself as you would speak to a friend. Check out these self-compassion resources.
  3. Nourish your body: The goal is to learn to eat in a way that honors your body and mind’s needs. Nutrition restoration and food rules can be challenging, but they’re key to the recovery process.
  4. Get enough sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night to help you recover and recharge.
  5. Connect with loved ones: Spend time with friends, family, and/or other loved ones who support and understand you.
  6. Seek professional help: Meeting with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders can help you work through your feelings and thoughts.
  7. Limit stress as much as possible: Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as yoga, meditation, and journaling.
  8. Celebrate progress: Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Focus on progress, not perfection.
  9. And finally, be patient with yourself. Acknowledge victories along the way. Be proud of the progress you’ve made. Remember that setbacks are part of the process: Fall down seven times, get up eight!

But one truth is ‘one-size-fits-all’: Seeking treatment is a sign of strength and courage, not a sign of weakness.

By approaching your journey toward recovery with compassion and patience, you can find the eating disorder solution that is most effective for you.

Awareness of self-criticism is very important, as is practicing self-compassion. 

Remind yourself that you are not defined by the eating disorder. Focus on the progress you’ve made.

Finally, find healthy ways to manage stress because, in general, stress can trigger eating disorder behaviors. 

A lifelong pursuit to find healthy ways of managing stress and maintaining a healthy emotional balance awaits you. Approach it with curiosity and a sense of exploration.

Taking care of yourself helps boost your resilience, boost your mood, and increases your chances of finding the solution that works best for you.

Recovering from an eating disorder can be challenging, but it’s a journey worth taking.

The upside that makes it all worthwhile? With proper treatment, an eating disorder is not life-long.

With support, education, and treatment, you can absolutely recover and reclaim your life…for good!

To read more about Disordered Eating, check out more blogs here.

Dr. Elayne Daniels is an anti-diet, Intuitive Eating-certified psychologist, consultant, coach, and author specializing in eating disorders. She is passionate about helping people of all ages and genders recover and truly live their lives. Contact her here to learn more. And if you’re struggling with overcoming an eating disorder, this e-book might be useful.

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