Treatment for anorexia needs to address both the physiological and psychological complications of the disease. It may include nutritional support, therapy, medication, and more.

Anorexia nervosa is a severe eating disorder that doctors characterize with a distorted body image and an extreme fear of weight gain. Individuals with anorexia restrict their food intake significantly, which can lead to a range of potentially life threatening complications.

A healthcare professional will recommend treatments according to the severity of a person’s eating disorder. In some cases, hospitalization or inpatient treatment may be necessary.

This article provides a detailed overview of these treatment options for anorexia and how they help manage this challenging condition.

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Hospitalization becomes necessary when an individual with anorexia nervosa faces immediate health risks. These risks could be due to severe weight loss, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or other serious complications.

Some indications that a person may need hospitalization include:

  • being less than 75% of the optimal body weight
  • a temperature lower than 35.5°C (95.9°F)
  • a heart rate below 45 beats per minute
  • a systolic blood pressure lower than 80 millimeters of mercury

It is important to note that a person does not always need to meet these criteria to require hospital care. Instead, these are guidelines that help a doctor determine whether someone needs medical support.

In a hospital setting, the main focus is stabilizing the individual’s physical health. This might involve intravenous fluids that healthcare professionals administer via a vein, feeding tubes, and close monitoring of vital signs.

The duration of hospital stay varies, but the aim is to stabilize the person so that outpatient or residential care is possible.

Residential treatment programs offer an intermediary step between hospitalization and outpatient care. In these specialized facilities, individuals live on-site and receive structured, 24–hour care.

The supportive environment combines medical monitoring, nutritional guidance, and therapy sessions. These programs typically offer a multidisciplinary approach, addressing the psychological and physiological aspects of anorexia.

They are particularly beneficial for those who require consistent support but not the intensive medical care of a hospital.

Psychotherapy is a cornerstone of anorexia treatment. Therapists often use enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy as a first-line treatment to help individuals identify and face distorted thoughts about body image and self-worth.

Other forms of therapy, such as family-based or group therapy, can be effective. They provide supportive environments where individuals and their families can address underlying issues and learn coping mechanisms.

Treatments for anorexia nervosa aim to restore a healthy weight and the normalization of eating patterns.

Registered dietitians often create individualized meal plans to ensure adequate calorie intake and balanced nutrition. Regular weight checks and nutritional education help individuals understand the importance of maintaining a healthy weight for overall well-being.

There are no medications with specific approval to treat anorexia nervosa.

However, some individuals may benefit from antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers to treat co-existing mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Doctors typically approach medication as a part of a broader treatment plan with the support of a mental health team familiar with eating disorders.

Treating anorexia nervosa can be challenging and complex. Due to the deeply ingrained beliefs and fears surrounding weight and food, individuals may resist treatment or experience relapses.

Co-existing mental health conditions, societal pressures, and the stigma relating to eating disorders can further complicate the treatment process.

Another challenge is ensuring long-term recovery following treatment, as transitioning from a structured care environment to everyday life can be daunting. Continuous support, regular follow-ups, and patient perseverance are crucial for lasting recovery.

Recovery from anorexia nervosa is easier with a robust support system. It may consist of the following:

  • Professional support: Specialized therapists, counselors, and dietitians specializing in eating disorders can provide crucial guidance tailored to the individual.
  • Support groups: In-person or online groups allow people to share experiences, coping mechanisms, and a sense of community. They are a safe space for individuals to discuss their feelings and problems.
  • Educational resources: Staying informed about anorexia and its treatments can empower people as they recover. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders is a reputable organization providing up-to-date information and resources.
  • Family and friends: Relationships with loved ones are pivotal in the healing process. Fostering a culture of open conversations, understanding, and support provides individuals with a consistent source of strength in demanding times.

People must be informed when seeking treatment for anorexia nervosa. Here are some questions to consider asking a healthcare professional:

  • Am I at risk of any health complications?
  • How often should I have check-ups during the recovery process?
  • What type of treatment approach do you recommend and why?
  • Are there any specific dietary recommendations or plans that I should follow?
  • Are there medications to help, and what are the potential side effects?
  • How can loved ones be involved in the treatment and recovery process?
  • Are there local support groups or therapy sessions you recommend?
  • What strategies can help prevent relapses in the future?

Anorexia nervosa is a complex eating disorder. As such, it requires a comprehensive treatment plan that may include hospitalization, residential care, psychotherapy, and more.

While professional guidance is crucial, the role of personal support systems is indispensable.

The combined efforts of therapy, medication, and consistent support help people recover, ensuring they regain both their physical and psychological well-being.