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Treatment Eating Disorders - Understanding the Treatment of Eating Disorders

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As society has become increasingly obsessed with the issue of weight, eating disorders have become more common. If one of your friends or loved ones is struggling with an eating disorder, however, it is important for you to understand that it is not just about the desire to control their body weight. Eating disorders are complex illnesses that become deeply entwined with a person’s entire idea of who they are. If you want to be able to help a loved one who suffers from one of these disorders, it’s important that you understand the treatment process.

The most urgent issue in the treatment of an eating disorder is to address any serious medical complications that are present. Particularly for a patient who has lost a substantial amount of weight, it’s possible that there may already be heart problems or other serious damage due to malnutrition. When this is the case, the first step in treatment is to focus on increasing body weight enough that the patient is not in serious immediate danger.

In some cases, a patient’s condition may be severe enough to require a stay in the hospital. Hospitalization is also sometimes required in cases where someone may be uncooperative with the treatment plan. One of the benefits of this approach in severe cases is that nutrients can be provided through an IV to help strengthen the patient’s body. The important thing to remember if a loved one is going through this is that this particular disease is defined by the individual’s eating patterns and not their physical condition. When someone who has an eating disorder begins to look well again, their family sometimes wrongly assumes that it means that they’re no longer sick. However, the process of learning to have a healthy relationship with food is just beginning at this point.

Once the immediate danger has passed, treatment may continue through either a residential or an outpatient program. In a residential setting it is much easier for a staff to monitor exactly what a patient is doing and to be sure that they follow all of the doctor’s recommendations. However, this option is comparatively expensive and this issue alone may keep it from being an option in some cases. The value of inpatient treatment also depends partially on how much social support is available.

Some kind of therapy, including both individual and group, is critical to the treatment of eating disorders. Though these illnesses can appear to be purely about weight and body fat, the real cause has more to do with a desire for control and a lack of self-esteem. Therapy focuses on identifying the thought patterns and stresses that led to the disordered eating. There’s often a great deal of discussion about the rules that may have been built up around eating in the patient’s mind. The goal is to help them to understand that their current way of dealing with food is irrational and unhealthy, so that they will be open to the process of learning how to take care of themselves again. There is also a focus on ways of dealing with stress other than by exercising strict control of food intake, and a patient may be taught techniques like basic meditation to aid this. When it is possible, this process will include family therapy to help the entire family to cope with the stress of the illness and to create a healthier social dynamic.

Another critical part of treatment is nutritional counseling. People with eating disorders often genuinely believe that they’re doing things that should make them healthier. The goal in this part of treatment is to teach them about what the body needs so that their desire to be healthy can be channeled into behaviors that really will help their bodies. In these sessions, a person will learn about why an eating disorder is dangerous and what the experience of disordered eating can really do to a person’s health. They will also participate in activities like developing meal plans so that they can practice using the guidelines that they are learning to create healthy meals.

Finally, attending support groups can be a valuable part of both the treatment of eating disorders and the process of staying on a healthy path in the following years. These offer a safe environment where people who understand what it’s like to live with these types of illnesses can gather and discuss their feelings. While these meetings may be guided and monitored by a mental health professional, most of the talking is done by people who have all struggled with the same types of illnesses. This provides a safe environment where people have the opportunity to share their feelings with people that can understand.

For someone who has never directly experienced an eating disorder, once the physical symptoms are resolved it may seem as if the patient should be recovered. The reality is that learning to have a healthy relationship with food and their body can require a great deal of work. The multi-faceted nature of the treatment of eating disorders is designed to support the participants in every part of the process.

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