Eating Disorders
(Including Anorexia and Bulimia)

Treatment of Eating Disorders

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. and Lynn Ponton, Ph.D.

In the Eating Disorders Series:

Among mental disorders, treatment of eating disorders can sometimes be especially challenging -- for the person with the disorder, their family and loved ones, and even for the mental health professional. Eating disorders are characterized in most adults who have them by a life-long pattern of eating and associating food with emotional fulfillment or coping with negative emotions. Many people who do this don't even realize the association they've made. Therefore one component of many people's successful treatment will be to help the person gain that insight.

Treatments for each of the different types of eating disorders varies somewhat (although psychotherapy is the core of all eating disorders treatment), so it's best to read more about the specific disorder's treatment you're most interested in:


Coping with Denial in Eating Disorders

What if the person you care about refuses to admit there is a problem? This is often the case with teenagers in general, and with anorexia nervosa at any age. Whether you merely suspect there is a problem, or you know that the problem exists and is serious, when your loved one or friend says nothing is wrong, you have a difficult situation.

The assessment of an eating disorder can be complex even for a professional. Knowing whether a disturbed eating pattern is part of a temporary phase, versus the beginning of a full-blown eating disorder, can be tricky. The best first step is to seek a professional consultation, with or without your loved one. You may start by going to a therapist without your child, loved one or friend. Do not second-guess yourself or put it off, the earlier an eating disorder has intervention, the better chance for recovery.

The worst case scenario, if you follow your instincts, is that the professional will say that they think the situation may best be handled by backing off. However, the professional will also be able to give you tools and information so that you will know what to do if things get worse.

Do not expect that your loved one will be open, cooperative or grateful to your intervention. It may feel like the hardest thing that you have ever had to do. You may worry that it will jeopardize the relationship you have with your loved one. When your loved one is in denial they are very ill. Their mind has been more or less possessed by the eating disorder and they are driven only by the fear of getting fat.

Do not personalize their irrationality or be controlled by the strong emotional displays, which are inevitable when they are taken over by the eating disorder "demon." With recovery, gratitude often comes.

» Next in Series: Tips for Friends and Family

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 May 2013
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