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Eating Disorder Treatment & Recovery

Updated on March 8, 2011

Because the causes of eating disorders are so various and so intertwined, successful treatment is always multi-disciplinary. Nutrition, behavior modification, and the learning of coping skills are all important pieces to the puzzle, but without resolving the core issues that triggered the individual to resort to such unhealthy practices, the rest is all for naught. Do not underestimate an eating disorder. Like an addiction, it grips like a vise, and, like an addiction, is rarely (if ever) cured without intense and ongoing treatment.


In severe cases of malnutrition, hospitalization may be necessary to stabilize vital signs while the initial re-feeding takes place, sometimes via a tube, inserted nasally into the stomach (see figure below). The prescription of anti-depressants to lift mood and stimulate appetite is common. Malnutrition and electrolyte imbalance lead to severe physical side effects: loss of hair, dry skin, low blood pressure, and abnormal heart rate are all common, as well as early osteoporosis from amenorrhea, and sometimes infertility. In an attempt to keep itself warm without its protective layer of fat, the body grows a fine coat of fur called lanugo, and the digestive system shuts down, unaccustomed to processing a proper amount of food.


Psychotherapy and nutrition counseling are the first steps to recovery, but anorexics often require a more serious intervention at some point, as relapses are frequent. Intensive inpatient rehabilitation has the highest recovery rate, as the patient's every move can be studied and monitored, and psychotherapy can take place simultaneously to weight gain. Without treatment, 1 in 4 anorexics will die of his or her disease. With this said, 70% of women with eating disorders are at or above a healthy weight, and these, too are in danger-heart attack, renal failure, esophageal rupture from vomiting, and gastric rupture from overeating all cause the death of healthy-looking people every day.

Clinical studies have shown that even healthy adult males, when kept on a starvation diet, will begin to exhibit classic anorexic behaviors: food hoarding and rituals, chronic gum-chewing and chain-smoking, obsession over recipes, calories, and fat. However, simply getting an eating disordered individual to "eat normally" does not solve the problem. Eating disorders are distressing mental illnesses that arise in an attempt to deal with one's unmet needs. In the end, finding other ways to meet these needs is the only way to replace the unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones; it is often a lifelong journey to wellness.


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    • shining star525 profile image

      shining star525 

      11 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I suffered to the extreme for nearly 20 years. (see my hub)

      You are providing quality information, as so many times the symptoms are treated, when in reality the underlying issues are the key.


    • profile image


      12 years ago

      I agree, about the phrase "

      "Eating disorders are distressing mental illnesses that arise in an attempt to deal with one's unmet needs "

      Many seem to be under the impression that those suffering with an eating disorder must be stick thin and automatically they starve themselves blind. But this just is not always the case. I have struggled with anorexia since the age of 11 and I am now 23. I have been through several terrible relapses where I have starved myself down to nothing, suffering malnutrition, ammenorrhea and depression to name a few. I have not "relapsed" in this respect in 2 years. However, I obsess constantly over my weight, my image and many other factors. I cannot eat anything unless I know the calories in it. I must know the number of calories I consume in a day, and I monitor my daily consumption. If I gain weight, I become depressed. Even though I am not physically ill so much any more, the mental burden of the illness is still very taxing and stressful. I just wanted to drive that point home.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      13 years ago from Queensland Australia

      "Eating disorders are distressing mental illnesses that arise in an attempt to deal with one's unmet needs "

      I think this is an important element in many if not all mental illnesses..

      another good hub !

    • Gwensgifts profile image


      13 years ago

      Great article. My sister is a recovering (never quite recovered) bulimic and I myself have struggled ith more than one eating disorder.

    • profile image

      Marye Audet 

      13 years ago

      This is excellent. I have an eating disorder..You would not know it..and I have it largely under control int hat I eat normally for the most part...but the mental effects are there. I have come to terms witht he fact that my vision of myself is distorted and I can't trust what I see in the mirror. Thank you for writing this. It is important information.


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