Nearly 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). People who struggle with eating disorders die at a higher rate than those with other mental health disorders. Learning what types of therapies work can be essential to rebuilding a person’s life to be healthier and support a long lasting life.
Eating disorders are defined as harmful patterns of eating, possibly with bingeing and purging. These are spurred on by psychological issues. Several types of eating disorders may also occur, but anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders are most common.
- Anorexia: when a person does not eat enough food to maintain a healthy weight, this is anorexia. People with anorexia usually cut down food intake to extreme levels, with fastidious counting of calories or secretly throwing away food.
- Bulimia: when someone binges and purges, whether through vomiting, use of laxatives, or exercising, this is bulimia. The impact on weight is less noticeable than with anorexia but is accompanied by similar negative emotions and poor self-image.
There are many types of therapies helpful in treating eating disorders. It may take time to find the right approach for an individual situation (or combination thereof) to support recovery.
- Medications: in many cases, eating disorders pose a physical and psychological threat to an individual’s life. A doctor may need to ensure any weight gain or loss is not the result of a physical condition. Antidepressant medications may also be used.
- Talk therapy: talk therapies are important in treatment of eating disorders. These aim to address underlying psychological causes for eating disorders. Therapy may be individual, with a group, or with the family. Sometimes a combination of therapies is helpful.
- Nutritional counseling: a dietician or nutritionist can work with a person to ensure a healthy weight is maintained with all the nutrients needed to become healthy long term.
- Alternative therapies: many types of therapies used for eating disorders fall under alternative therapies. This includes art therapy, adventure therapy, equine therapy, and recreational therapy.
The Right Approach
The best advice for choosing between therapy types is to talk to the counselor or doctor offering treatment. In most cases, there will be some medical treatments, talk therapies, nutritional counseling, and other complementary approaches. It helps to consider options carefully so a loved one can regain a healthy body image and move back to a healthy weight.
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