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- Treatment Overview
Anorexia Nervosa Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- See a medical or mental health provider if you are restricting your food intake, are noticeably losing weight, are fearful of gaining weight or being fat, are using weight loss aids, or are increasingly obsessed with food, calories, and dieting.
- It is important to meet with a provider if you have significant weight loss, you’ve fainted, have noticeable changes in heart rhythm, chronic fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of your menstrual period, or have any significant changes in your mood.
Go to the ER for any of these symptoms:
- Dehydration (dark yellow urine), severe dizziness or blacking out, heart rhythm disturbances, severe abdominal pain or bloating, or chest pain
- If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 911 or 988 (the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline).
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When to see a healthcare provider
You should always see a medical or mental health provider if you are distressed about your body, eating behaviors, or weight loss methods. Talk to a provider if you are restricting calories or using any kind of purging method to get rid of calories or lose weight.
Most people with mild to moderate anorexia symptoms can be treated in outpatient settings with coordinated care by their medical team, a mental health professional, and dietician and nutritionist. Try to look for providers who specialize in eating disorders.
Some people with moderate to severe symptoms may need to be treated either in the hospital, an intensive outpatient program, or a residential treatment program. Treatment length varies greatly, but most people will need to continue with mental health and nutritional support once in recovery.
A healthcare provider will use specific criteria to diagnose anorexia. They may also do a physical exam, order lab tests including a urinalysis, bloodwork, an electrocardiogram (EKG), and possibly imaging tests to rule out other conditions and to check for damage to the liver, kidney, thyroid, heart, or bones caused by restricting and purging behaviors.
The main criteria for anorexia can include:
- Restricting your calories below normal calorie requirements.
- Having low body weight.
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat that leads to behaviors that interfere with gaining weight
- Having serious problems with your body weight or shape, like being overly obsessed with weight or not realizing you’re underweight.
What to expect from your visit
The best treatment for anorexia is having a team of providers, including medical professionals, mental health specialists, dieticians, and nutritionists, along with your closest support network.
- The goal of talk therapy is to help you process triggers and causes of the anorexia and develop behavioral and coping strategies. A therapist will also help you understand unhealthy food-related beliefs.
- If you have other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may see a psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication if needed.
- A medical provider will make sure that the anorexia hasn’t contributed to any other health issues and will help treat and monitor them.
- You’ll likely see a dietician or nutritionist who will help you figure out how you can get the nutrients you need, increase your caloric intake, and provide eating strategies that address your thoughts and behaviors around food.
Types of providers who treat anorexia
- Healthcare providers specialized in anorexia can offer medical care and advice.
- Mental health specialists like a psychologist or clinical social worker specialized in eating disorders can offer psychotherapy for both you and your family.
- Dieticians and nutritionists create a specialized eating plan and work with you to address your thoughts and behaviors around food.
Strategies to help your anorexia at home
It is not recommended that you treat anorexia on your own without professional medical and mental health treatment. At-home care means working on the treatment plan created by you and your medical team.
- Treatment plan: Follow the treatment plan that was specifically designed to help you manage your anorexia symptoms and behaviors.
- Psychotherapy homework: Your mental health specialist will give you exercises to help you develop insight and coping strategies into your specific causes, triggers, and behavioral patterns. This often includes family therapy.
- Good nutrition: Follow the advice of a specialized dietician or nutritionist for a balanced diet and mindful eating strategies to help counter the negative health consequences of anorexia like malnutrition and electrolyte imbalances.
- Healthy relationships: Avoid withdrawing and isolating from others. Try to keep healthy and positive relationships with others.
- Cautious exercise: Work closely with your medical team on the appropriate kind and amount of physical activity.
- Avoid triggers and purging aids: Avoid owning and using scales to weigh yourself and avoid full-length mirrors. Do not use appetite suppressants, laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.
- Mind-body techniques: Try mind-body techniques like meditation, massage, acupuncture, and mindfulness, to help heal the relationship with your body and promote stress reduction, increased self-regulation, and coping.
Support groups, both online and in person, are valuable for support, gaining insight, and strategies. You can find support at the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.