Eating Disorders: When Is it Time to Seek Help?

time-to-heal-eating-disordersBy: Kenneth L. Weiner, M.D., FAED, CEDS

My hope is that my posts to date have emphasized at least two things about eating disorders: They’re complex mental illnesses with biological, psychological and social implications for an individual’s health and wellness; and because of this complexity, they tend to be the deadliest mental illnesses. Taken together, these two realities make eating disorders incredibly difficult for individuals to successfully treat themselves. To achieve lasting recovery, expert intervention may be a necessary and life-saving pursuit.

When is eating disorders treatment appropriate?

Early intervention in eating disorders is incredibly helpful in supporting effective treatment outcomes. While anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder aren’t addictive disorders, they’re compulsive disorders, which means if you give the illness enough time to embed itself in who you are, what you believe and how you lead your life, it becomes even more difficult to interrupt and treat successfully. That’s why early intervention is so critical to lasting recovery.

What key aspects should an individual consider when seeking treatment for eating disorders?

There are a handful of fundamental considerations when identifying appropriate treatment for anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders–particularly level of care, treatment philosophy and financial aspects of securing care.

Levels of care. Eating disorders affect each individual differently, and thoughts and behaviors can range from mild and seemingly benign to intensely disruptive and life threatening. A thorough assessment with a trained eating disorders specialist can help determine which of the following levels of care is most appropriate based on one’s symptoms and the course of the illness:

Inpatient eating disorder treatment programs are designed for eating disordered individuals whose severe behaviors have resulted in very low body weight and/or serious medical complications. These programs offer 24/7 support and medical monitoring. Patients engage in a structured schedule incorporating therapy and opportunities to learn and practice recovery behaviors.

Residential programs are very similar to inpatient programs in that they offer 24-hour observation and support and a structured schedule of therapeutic recovery activities. However, individuals in residential eating disorders treatment don’t require the level of medical and psychiatric supervision that’s delivered at the inpatient level of care.

Partial Hospitalization programs offer a daytime curriculum of staff-supported opportunities to practice interactions and challenges outside of treatment, while patients practice recovery skills during evenings at home or in recovery-focused apartment communities near the treatment center.

Outpatient programs cater to individuals stepping down from higher levels of care (inpatient, residential or partial hospitalization) or those simply needing additional support in regard to self-esteem, body image and recovery-focused living. Intensive outpatient programs are generally held several evenings a week and may include a supported meal as part of the treatment session, while outpatient therapy usually occurs on a regular basis with an eating disorders therapist or dietitian. Unlike the higher levels of care, outpatient treatment allows patients with less severe symptoms to stay engaged in or reintegrate into their lives, and doesn’t generally require a leave from work or school.

Treatment philosophy. There are many different treatment approaches for addressing eating disorders. Sophisticated treatment will incorporate evidence-based techniques as well as experiential therapies, like art and yoga. Family involvement, and educating loved ones on how to support eating disorders recovery, is also an important component of an effective treatment philosophy in addition to therapeutic focus on the individual. Selecting the right eating disorders treatment provider is a delicate balance of understanding the treatment philosophy and careful evaluation of each patient’s needs and personality.

Cost of treatment. Affordability is critical when exploring eating disorders treatment options. Many families wonder whether treatment for anorexia and bulimia will be covered by their insurance provider, and if not, whether a self-pay alternative is within reason. Don’t be alarmed if you can’t find information about the cost of treatment right away; this figure varies wildly depending on the levels of care offered by providers and the diverse needs of eating disordered patients. However, thanks to the Mental Health Parity Act, which requires dollar limits of mental health benefits be the same as dollar limits for medical and surgical benefits, many eating disorders treatment centers have contracts with select insurance companies that cover at least a portion of treatment costs. When discussing cost with treatment providers, they should be able to determine if your family can leverage insurance benefits to support the cost of treatment and clearly outline other financial obligations.

Learn more about comprehensive eating disorders treatment here.

Follow Kenneth L. Weiner, M.D., FAED, CEDS on Twitter:

Courtesy of The Huffington Post.

You may also like:

Fed Up!

Resources for Eating Disorder Treatment and Recovery

10 Lessons Learning in Recovery

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