First, we want to reach out and give you the biggest virtual hug. It’s not easy to admit that you need help, and it’s especially difficult to go through an eating disorder.
Good on you for doing some research (and some soul searching) to figure out how to get started finding help. Living with an eating disorder presents significant difficulties and disruptions to everyday life.
It can often feel like you’re living on a different planet — or in a different reality — than everyone around you. The good news is that most people who struggle with an eating disorder do recover, and numerous treatment options exist.
Even though everyone's experience with an eating disorder is different, and there is no single cookie-cutter approach to treating them, you can take comfort in knowing that there are experts who can help. You don’t have to go it alone.
Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, genders, races, shapes, and sizes, so it’s important to find the right treatment option for you. This will make all the difference in your recovery!
Let’s talk about common eating disorders and their symptoms, the most effective treatments, how to get them, and how to manage an eating disorder in your everyday life.
What Is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders, though appropriately named, are about a lot more than just food. Eating disorders are complicated mental health conditions that affect hundreds of thousands of people.
Though some can recover on their own, often, the help of a medical and psychological team is required to overcome an eating disorder.
What starts as a mental illness that causes unhealthy eating habits can quickly snowball into a life-changing problem. It can become an obsession with food, body weight, and body image.
People with an eating disorder can have many different symptoms, such as changes in their eating behaviors like restricting food, overeating with food binges, or purging behaviors like overexercising, using laxatives, or vomiting.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), defines certain particular eating disorders. Those eating disorders are:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bulimia nervosa
- Binge eating disorder
- Rumination disorder
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
- Other eating disorders
Each of these disorders has its own set of symptoms and indications, and if you feel like you may have one of these disorders, you have probably already done some research to learn more.
However, the National Eating Disorders Association website is a fantastic resource if you want specific information regarding one of the disorders above.
What Are Some of the Signs of an Eating Disorder?
Though the different types of eating disorders all have different symptoms and behaviors, some indications are common to many people. In any case, those who suffer from eating disorders tend to have a laser focus on anything related to food and eating, and sometimes exercise and weight.
Physical signs of an eating disorder might include:
- Dizziness or fainting
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping at odd hours
- In women, a cease in menstruation
- Dry and brittle skin and nails
- Thinning hair or complete hair loss
- Muscle weakness
- Weak immune system
- Low blood cell counts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Stomach or gastrointestinal issues
Mental, emotional, and behavioral signs of an eating disorder might include:
- Obsession with food, calories, dieting, or weight
- Refusing to eat “problem” or “bad” foods
- Denying feeling hungry, even if they have not eaten in a long time
- Overexercising or expressing the need to “work off” what they’ve eaten
- Weighing themselves constantly
- Refusing to eat in public or hiding their eating patterns
- Preparing meals for others but not eating those meals
- Finding excuses to avoid meals or plans that involve food
- Dramatic or sudden weight loss
If this feels like you, you are on the right track and can absolutely get help. Let’s dive right in and talk about your treatment options and how to get started.
How Do I Get Started With Seeking Treatment For My Eating Disorder?
First, let’s talk about the steps you can take to help yourself. Eating disorder recovery can be hugely overwhelming, so if you just follow these steps and do your best, you can’t go wrong.
Don’t worry about what anyone thinks; just worry about being your best and healthiest self.
1. Find Someone To Talk To
Hopefully, there is a family member or loved one in your life you feel like you can talk to about this. Reach out to them first. People want to help others; it’s human nature.
It may feel a little icky to admit that you need help, but if someone truly loves you, they won’t judge. Be honest and direct, and tell them you have been struggling.
2. Talk to Your Doctor
Because eating disorders can have many negative effects on your physical health, it’s a good idea to set up an appointment with your doctor. Remember that medical doctors are professionals trained to handle this sort of thing, and they will be able to connect you to local resources like support groups.
They can also assess how much damage you may have already done to your system, which is super important.
3. Find a Good Therapist
If you don’t already have a therapist (why not? Everyone deserves therapy!), now’s the time to find one. You may have amazing friends and understanding family members, but nothing beats the listening ear of a trained mental health professional who has nothing but your best interest in mind.
If you can, seek out a therapist who specializes in disordered eating. There are many out there, and they can help you in a way that some other therapists may not be able to.
4. Ask About Treatment Options
This is a question for both your medical doctor and your therapist. They can determine how severe your eating disorder is and what the best course of treatment might be.
Of course, you may want to consider doing some research first, but trust your doctors if they determine a course of treatment for you. We will get into those options in just a minute!
5. Get Your Ducks in a Row
Not all of us are all-star multi-taskers. Most of us aren’t. Many of us shut down, at least a little when we have something big going on in our lives. Try to avoid this!
Once you have a treatment plan in mind, you will want to ensure that the rest of your life is in order. Some things to consider:
- Talk to your employer: Legally, they can’t fire you for this, even if it means taking time off work to seek treatment.
- Make sure your bills are paid: Get as up-to-date as possible on bills, especially if you might be in inpatient treatment for a while.
- Recruit friends and family: Recovery takes work. You juggle a lot, even if you aren’t in an inpatient program. Call on your loved ones to help you keep up your house, do your grocery shopping, or even just hang out with you when you need a shoulder to cry on.
6. Fully Commit
You can do this! You just need to keep telling yourself that. You will have good days and bad, but just keep reminding yourself that you deserve to get better and live the life you want.
What Are My Treatment Options?
As we said, the most important thing is to reach out to the medical and psychological experts in your life. They can help guide you to the treatment options that are specifically available in your local area. Regarding the options available, here are the various treatment options listed from most to least intensive.
Full Inpatient Hospitalization Programs
Inpatient treatment is just what it sounds like: You would be living full-time in a facility for a determined amount of time, being monitored and cared for around the clock.
It’s important to remember that this is not a yoga retreat or a five-star hotel. You may have locked bathrooms, supervised snacks and meals, and intense therapy. Inpatient hospitalization stays are typically short; hopefully, you will soon progress to a lower level of supervision.
Inpatient treatment is good for those who:
- Have intense medical needs and require round-the-clock medical monitoring
- Have complications because of other medical conditions
- Present an acute health risk in one way or another
- May be suicidal
- Are psychiatrically unstable
Residential Inpatient Treatment
Here, the patient also gets round-the-clock monitoring in which you would stay overnight and attend special programming during the day. The difference is the level of medical monitoring, which is not so intense.
In residential treatment, you can expect group, individual, and family therapy sessions which often include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help identify your triggers and change your habits. Residential stays can be as short as two weeks or as long as a year.
Residential inpatient treatment is a good choice for those who:
- Are medically stable.
- Have some psychological issues and have been unable to succeed in an outpatient setting
Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
A PHP is a program in which the patients spend the entire day in a treatment center every day, but then get to go home and sleep in their beds. Programming is similar to what you would find in a residential program.
A PHP is a good fit for those who:
- Are medically stable but struggle with daily tasks and basic functions
- Need daily psychological monitoring
- Habitually engage in binge eating, purging, restricting food, etc.
Outpatient Treatment Programs
Many people are good candidates for outpatient programs because they offer specialized treatment while providing flexibility and the ability to continue daily life. The person is still able to live at home, go to work, etc.
In outpatient programs, the person attends classes, sees doctors, attends therapy, and works with nutritionists, but the commitment is minimal compared to other levels of care. It may be for only a few hours a day, a few days a week.
Outpatient treatment is best for those who:
- Are medically stable
- Do not need daily monitoring
- Are psychologically stable
- Have their symptoms somewhat under control
Whether you choose therapy, outpatient, inpatient, or full hospitalization, make sure you lean on those willing to help. Forget the judgment and shame because you are loved and will be supported.
Remember: recovery is possible, and you can do it! Here at Relay, we know how hard this journey can be and are here every step of the way.
National Eating Disorders Association
Eating disorder treatment: Know your options | Mayo Clinic
Eating Disorders: Treatment Options and How to Get Help | Psych Central
6 Common Types of Eating Disorders (and Their Symptoms) | Healthline