treatment options for eating disorders
Eating disorders are a treatable illness. Treatment should
commence as early as possible to promote recovery. The treatment
of eating disorders involves a comprehensive approach including
medical care, nutritional intervention and counseling, psychotherapy
and medication if necessary.
can cause a number of medical problems or medical
complications. The affected person is required to
undergo a comprehensive physical examination and laboratory
tests. They can include the assessment of weight,
height, menstrual patterns, dietary intake, hydration
status, skin and hair condition, cardiac and pulmonary
function, abdominal system, physical activity level,
and blood tests for anaemia, electrolyte levels, nutritional
deficiencies, liver function, and thyroid function.
The physical health of the affected person will be
monitored continuously by a medical doctor during
the treatment process.
intervention and counseling
These are provided
by a dietician to improve the knowledge on nutritional
needs of the person undergoing treatment, facilitate
the development of a normal and healthy eating plan,
manage obsessions about food and weight, and overcome
bulimic behaviours(bingeing, purging, excessive exercise
and dieting). Assessment will be performed on the
patient to identify nutritional deficiencies. Guidance
will be offered to the patient and his/ her family
on meal planning to ensure that meals can meet his
/ her nutritional needs and is acceptable and tolerable.
The patient will also be educated on how to use a
food journal to record her/ his emotions related to
food and eating.
It can be conducted
on an individual basis or in a group with the aim
to identify the psychological stresses underlying
the development of eating disorders and an individual's
current feelings about himself / herself and others.
Patients will be helped to confront their concepts
of body image, develop positive self-esteem and self
confidence, and identify their resources that could
help them overcome their difficulties.
- The therapy was found to be effective for
the treatment of bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
- The therapy aims to help the patient resolve
interpersonal problems that contribute to the cause of
eating problems. The patient is helped to identify the
problems, generate possible solutions, implement actions
and monitor progress. It is conducted by a sympathetic
and supportive therapist who the patient can trust.
- In group therapy people with eating disorders
are provided with the opportunity to interact with others
in the same situation. They can share their feelings and
learn about themselves, the illness and the recovery process.
The group therapy is conducted by a health professional.
Members in the group can develop support for each other.
- It is more effective for people with bulimia
nervosa or binge-eating than for people with anorexia
- The therapy helps patients to explore thoughts
and beliefs associated with their eating problems and
to reestablish a regular and healthy eating pattern. They
will learn how to eliminate their myths and distorted
ideas about food, eating, shape and weight. They will
be helped to increase self-esteem and reduce emphasis
on physical appearance as an important personal attribute.
- It is especially effective for treating
young people (aged 18 or below) with anorexia nervosa
lasting less than 3 years.
- Eating disorders usually affect not only
the suffering individual but also all members of the family
when she/ he is still living at home. Thus all family
members living with or very close to the family member
with an eating disorder will be involved in the family
therapy. The aims of the therapy are to identify any areas
of stress in the family, find healthy ways to deal with
stress, improve communication and trust, and recognize
family strengths and resources that can be mobilized to
fight the illness.
is commonly used to treat problems associated with
eating disorders, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive
symptoms or anxiety, or to help regulate eating and
prevent relapse. It can take several weeks to be effective
and its use would be most effective when combined
with ongoing therapy.
Other forms of therapy
- Self-help groups can offer mutual support
and understanding, and information sharing to sufferers
and their families. They are conducted by non professionals
who have experience with eating disorders personally or
- Other useful therapies are movement therapy,
body image therapy, aromatherapy, meditation, stress management
and relaxation technique.
People with eating disorders can receive:
- outpatient treatment
- day hospital treatment
- inpatient treatment
- residential care
- It offers treatment in an outpatient
setting in which the sufferer is required to attend regular
once a week or once every two weeks).
This causes less disruption to the individual's
normal routine. The treatment could include medical, psychological,
pharmacological and nutritional care.
- It offers treatment in a structured environment
in which the sufferer is required to attend a day hospital
programme and return home to sleep at night. It is for
sufferers needing a step-down programme after hospitalization,
not responding to outpatient treatment or requiring regular
supervision at meals.
- It offers treatment in a hospital setting
for those who are suffering from severe or rapid weight
loss, severe medical complication, severe psychiatric
complication, suicidal or homicidal thought or unsuccessful
- It offers a long-term treatment in a residential
center in which the sufferer will have a longer time to
stabilize her / his eating patterns and to address the
underlying issues. There will be less monitoring and supervision
on the person undergoing treatment than in an inpatient
Reaching out for professional
Finding professional help is an important
step for the initiation of treatment. Professional help
can be obtained from a multi-disciplinary team. The treatment
team may include a number of specialists, such as a medical
doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, counselor,
family therapist, dietitian, and nurse. Please look up
the resources provided in this programme for the types
of professional health services available. When choosing
the specialists, you would need to consider their qualifications,
experience, accessibility, service fee and ability in
building up rapport. A second opinion should be obtained
if you are not satisfied with the treatment that your
family member is receiving.