Rehab for Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are behavioural disorders related to eating patterns linked to emotional and psychological problems. Like other mental health disorders, eating disorders can affect every aspect of a person’s life. There are various different types of eating disorders like bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder etc.
These disorders usually start around adolescence and are seen more commonly in women. But people of any age or gender may develop them. These disorders are often associated with a preoccupation with anxiety about their body and food habits. This might lead to behaviours like heavy dieting, avoiding eating certain foods, restricting meals, purging, etc.
What are eating disorders?
Eating disorders are characterised by abnormal eating behaviour. Along with this, there is a preoccupation with food and body-related concerns. These symptoms should not be considered culturally appropriate. Adjusting diets to lose weight is culturally acceptable in some places and situations. Media also influences our ideas about ideal body weight and shape.
The main symptom necessary for diagnosing eating disorders is an abnormal eating behaviour pattern. These behaviours lead to deterioration in health, significant distress and impairment in work, social and personal life. Starvation or lack of necessary nutrients can cause dizziness, stoppage in the menstrual cycle, severe constipation, fractures, kidney issues and cognitive dysfunction. This can also be life-threatening in some extreme cases.
The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) classifies eating disorders into the following types:
- Anorexia Nervosa
Characterized by significantly low body weight, specifically a body mass index under 18.5kg/m2 or rapid weight loss of more than 20% of body weight in six months. This is accompanied by behaviours to prevent weight gain, like excessive exercise, restricting meals and purging. They might believe that their body weight is normal or excessive and have a fear of gaining weight.
- Bulimia Nervosa
Characterised by multiple binge eating episodes, at least one each week. During a binge eating episode, the person feels a compulsive need to eat unusually larger quantities, feeling unable to stop regardless of how full they are. This often gets to the point of nausea. There is a preoccupation with body weight and shape, and they try to compensate for the eating by purging, using enemas or extensive exercising. This is a significantly distressing experience for the person and affects their functioning. People with bulimia nervosa can range anywhere from slightly underweight to obese.
- Binge Eating Disorder
This disorder is also characterised by binge eating episodes like Bulimia nervosa but is not followed by compensatory behaviours. This disorder does not involve symptoms like purging or excessive exercise after eating. The binge eating episodes cause significant distress in the person’s life along with affecting their functioning.
- Avoidant-restrictive Food Intake Disorder (AFRID)
Avoiding or significantly reducing food intake, which is not due to a preoccupation with body weight and shape. They may consume insufficient amounts or a variety of foods leading to clinical deficiencies and extreme weight loss. This may impact their physical health significantly and affect their functioning. There might be different reasons for the affected people to stop eating. For example, aversions to certain types of foods, disinterest in eating and sometimes there might not be any apparent reason.
Treatment Options for eating disorders
The treatment plan depends on the complete medical history, intensity of symptoms and presence of any co-occurring disorders. For eating disorders, the first goal is to bring eating behaviour to a normal or healthy level. This involves increasing the quantity and variety in their diet to make it well-balanced.
Along with the nutritional plan, it is necessary to address the psychological concerns related to the problem. The fear of eating, gaining weight or body dissatisfaction can be discussed in one-on-one sessions with a therapist. For adolescents, it is necessary for the parents or guardians to be involved in the treatment to assist them in their recovery.
Less intensive symptoms can be treated with an outpatient program. Cognitive Behavior therapy (CBT) has been shown to work best with eating disorders. Along with nutritional guidance and medical assistance when required. But in case of medical complications where supervision is required or the symptoms are more severe, inpatient treatment becomes necessary.
Therapy can help adapt to more healthy behaviours and eating habits. It can help in tracking eating habits and feelings. Long-term treatment will also improve overall well-being and restore daily functioning. The most commonly used therapies are CBT, DBT, ACT, family therapy and group therapy.
A nutritionist can provide guidance on the importance of various nutrients and it’s effects on the body. Meal planning can help improve eating habits and achieve ideal weight and health. Medications might be required to treat any complications caused by the eating disorder.
When to choose rehab for eating disorders
Eating disorders often co-occur with other mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders or drug addiction. In these cases, treatment becomes more complex. It is necessary to address the problem from physiological, behavioural, and emotional aspects while also treating the physical and nutritional side.
Eating disorders can adversely affect the functioning of different body parts and lead to medical complications. It is necessary to address all these concerns. People with eating disorders often have denial of the problem and resistance towards treatment. This makes it necessary for them to have complete support through recovery.
With proper holistic care, it is possible to address emotional problems, heal physiological and nutritional deficiencies, and learn new and healthy eating habits. In rehab, your treatment plan is customised based on your needs. A team of experts, including a mental health expert, dietician, and doctors, will collaborate throughout your recovery.
Rehab gives you a structured program while monitoring your health progress. The staff can provide you with 24/7 support to adapt to healthier eating behaviours. Individual and group therapy sessions are likely to be conducted almost every day. The ultimate goal is to learn skills and tools to manage any triggers or cravings in the future. You can choose an outpatient or inpatient treatment plan based on your needs and suitability.
If you or someone you know is suffering from symptoms of eating disorders, reach out to a medical or mental health professional for guidance. You can also browse through a list of mental health and addiction treatment centres here.
Garner, D. M., & Garfinkel, P. E. (Eds.). (1997). Handbook of treatment for eating disorders. Guilford Press.
Frisch, M. J., Herzog, D. B., & Franko, D. L. (2006). Residential treatment for eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 39(5), 434-442.
Murphy, R., Straebler, S., Cooper, Z., & Fairburn, C. G. (2010). Cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders. Psychiatric Clinics, 33(3), 611-627.
Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2002). Causes of eating disorders. Annual review of psychology, 53(1), 187-213.
World Health Organization. (2022). ICD-11 for Mortality and Morbidity Statistics (11th ed.).