All people with anorexia need treatment. In most cases, this involves seeing a doctor and having regular counseling sessions. A hospital stay is needed for those who are seriously underweight or who have severe medical problems. The goals of treatment are to restore a healthy weight and healthy eating habits.
If you have an eating disorder, try not to resist treatment. Although you may be very afraid of gaining weight, try to think of weight gain as a life-saving measure. With help, you can learn to eat well and keep your weight at a healthy level.
Ideally, you can take charge of anorexia with the help of a team that includes a mental health professional (such as a psychologist or licensed counselor), a medical health professional (such as a doctor or nurse), and a registered dietitian.
If your medical condition is not life-threatening, your treatment likely will include:
- Medical treatment. If malnutrition or starvation has started to break down your body, medical treatment will be a top priority. Your doctor will treat the medical conditions that have been caused by anorexia, such as osteoporosis, heart problems, or depression. As you begin to get better, your doctor will continue to follow your health and weight.
- Nutritional counseling. A registered dietitian will help you take charge of your weight in a healthy way. You will learn healthy eating patterns and gain a good understanding of nutrition.
- Therapy. Talking with a psychologist or mental health professional will help you cope with the emotional reasons behind anorexia. For example, you may discuss life stresses, unhelpful beliefs about food and weight, or certain personality traits that may be, in part, causing anorexia.
An important part of your recovery will include:
- Taking control of your eating habitsTaking control of your eating habits.
- Learning emotional self-careLearning emotional self-care.
- Building trust in people who are trying to help youBuilding trust in people who are trying to help you.
One type of family therapy, The Maudsley method, has been shown to help children and teens who have anorexia. The Maudsley method helps parents feed their child and create a healthy eating pattern for their child. Although this is a difficult task that involves the whole family, a Maudsley therapist can help the family reach this goal. After your child or teen has gained enough weight, treatment will begin to address more general family issues.
Any brothers or sisters also need support during treatment. Family, group, and individual counseling are all effective and are often combined.
If you need more help
Ongoing (chronic) forms of anorexia may require treatment for many years, including hospitalizations when needed. Ongoing treatment usually includes psychological counseling. A counselor will help you make your own plan to use new coping and stress management skills and prevent relapse. Your counselor can help you at those times when it is hard to follow healthy ways of thinking about food and your body.
Some people fully recover from anorexia. Many people with anorexia have ups and downs over the years. Try thinking of treatment as an ongoing process.
When you need emergency care
If anorexia causes life-threatening medical problems, you need urgent medical treatment. A hospital stay is needed for those who are seriously underweight or who have severe medical problems. This can include several weeks in the hospital followed by outpatient treatment to monitor your progress. Treatment includes:
- Treating starvation. This can include treating medical problems it has caused, such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, or heart problems. If you can't eat, you are given your nutrition in fluid form.
- Nutritional rehabilitation. The medical team helps you work toward a healthier weight carefully and gradually, learn when your body is hungry and full, and start healthy eating patterns.
What to think about
Anorexia can be a lifelong illness. Many people who have anorexia recover, some improve, and some have problems with anorexia throughout their lives.
- People with anorexia who are young and who start treatment early in their illness usually do well.
- Anorexia is more difficult to treat when it has gone untreated for a long time.
Many people don't get treatment for mental health problems. You may not seek treatment because you think your symptoms are not bad enough or that you can work things out on your own. But getting treatment is important.
If you need help deciding whether to see your doctor, read about some reasons why people don't get help and how to overcome them.