Questions to Ask About Eating Disorder Treatment


Chris Iliades, MD

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Pediatrician, Nurse and Patient

You have many options when it comes to treatment for an eating disorder. The best treatment for you will depend on the type of eating disorder you have, how severe your symptoms are, and many other factors. Your treatment must fit your own needs. That's individualized treatment. The best way to find the right treatment is to ask the right questions.

Who should treat my eating disorder?

You may start with your primary care provider, but the best treatment for an eating disorder is usually a team approach. Your team may include health experts from different specialties. This is known as a multidisciplinary team. Common team members are a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker and nutritionist or dietitian. Ask your doctor if you need a treatment team.

What types of treatment are available?

There are lots of possible treatments. Not all of them will be right for you. For most people, the best treatment includes some type of talk therapy (psychotherapy) along with medical and nutritional care. Psychotherapy can involve just you or include family members, too. You might also take part in group therapy, with other people who have an eating disorder.

Medications are also helpful for some people. So is nutrition counseling. Ask your doctor what types of treatment would be right for your kind of eating disorder.

Will I need to be in the hospital?

You may need treatment in a hospital if you have a severe type of eating disorder called anorexia nervosa. If you have this eating disorder and you have lost a lot of weight, a hospital stay may be the safest option. After you get to a safe weight, you can continue treatment outside the hospital. Most other types of eating disorders can be treated outside the hospital. That's called outpatient treatment.

If you or a loved one goes to a treatment center, ask the center specific questions about the structure and success rate of the eating disorders program. For instance, ask what types of behavioral therapy they use for people with anorexia.

What's involved with therapy for eating disorders?

Many people with eating disorders have cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With CBT, you learn to recognize unhelpful thoughts and actions. Then you learn to replace these with healthier thoughts and actions. Group therapy and support groups can be helpful also. Many people benefit from sharing experiences with others who are going through the same thing. Involving family members in therapy is common for young people with anorexia nervosa.

In nutrition counseling, you'll learn what your body needs to be healthy. The counselor will help you find ways to change your eating habits and make better choices.

Will medications help me?

Medications for eating disorders include drugs called antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers. The most common medication is an SSRI antidepressant. An SSRI may help control binge-eating behavior. SSRIs are a common early treatment for bulimia, too.

Your doctor is more likely to prescribe a medication if you have other mental health issues along with your eating disorder. These issues may include depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive (OCD) symptoms.

How important is my treatment?

An eating disorder is a serious health issue. Untreated eating disorders can lead to emotional and physical problems. Long-term physical problems can include heart failure, kidney failure and even death. In most cases, treatment that starts early works best. Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices or fads that come and go. Professional medical help is essential. Ask your doctor how to get started.