Skip to main content

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses. They are characterized by abnormal, irregular eating habits, and an extreme concern with one’s body weight or shape. There are a number of different manifestations of eating disorders. The various types are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. The exact cause behind why individuals develop eating disorders remains unknown, but research has found that it is likely due to a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors. Eating disorders can be debilitating and can adversely affect an individual’s emotions, health, and interfere with one’s ability to adequately function in his or her daily. If left untreated, eating disorders can result in severe short and long-term consequences. 

Treatment

There are a variety of treatment options for individuals struggling with eating disorders. In order to secure the most effective treatment it is essential to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Every person is different and will respond distinctly to the various eating disorder treatment methods available. A customized treatment plan will be developed that is specific to each individual so as to ensure all nuanced needs are met. The treatment plan for an individual diagnosed with an eating disorder will be directly informed by several contributing factors, such as: one’s exact diagnosis, how long he or she has been actively engaging in unhealthy eating habits, his or her personal health history, and the presence of any co-morbid disorders. Depending on the needs of the individual, an eating disorder treatment plan could include any combination of the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): can be used to help an individual break unhealthy behavioral patterns associated with his or her eating disorder by identifying and replacing dysfunctional patterns.
  • Medications:
    • Anorexia nervosa: the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has yet to approve any medication specifically for the treatment of anorexia nervosa. 
    • Bulimia nervosa: the only medication that is approved by the FDA for the treatment of bulimia nervosa is the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) known as Prozac (generically: fluoxetine). 
    • Binge-eating disorder: The first medication the FDA approved as treatment from binge eating disorder is called Vyvanse (generically: lisdexamfetamine). Antidepressants such as SSRIs (e.g., Prozac) could be prescribed to reduce the frequency of binge eating episodes. Anticonvulsant medications, such as Topiramate, could be prescribed as a means to reduce the frequency of bingeing episodes. 
  • Nutritional counseling: to facilitate weight restoration and body-weight management.
  • Medical care and/ or medical monitoring: to minimize and mitigate possible medical complications that can arise from eating disorders
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT can benefit an individual diagnosed with an eating disorder by helping to foster self-management skills, lower stress, reduce anxiety, and learn to control destructive eating behaviors.

The goal of treatment for individuals with an eating disorder is to help them find a healthy and sustainable relationship with food. While eating disorders are life-long conditions, with proper treatment, an individual can learn how to effectively manage its symptoms and go on to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. 

Disclaimer: 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health.  As such, please do not use any material provided above as a means to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.