First Steps: How & When to Seek Eating Disorder Treatment

First Steps: How & When to Seek Eating Disorder Treatment

Knowing when and how to seek help for an eating disorder may be some of the most challenging pieces of the recovery puzzle. Because eating disorders can present in such a wide variety of ways and manifest in so many forms, it can be particularly tough to know which symptoms merit medical and psychiatric attention. The bottom line, however, is that eating disorders are deadly diseases: in fact, EDs have the second highest mortality rate of all mental illness. Taking decisive, targeted action early can literally help save a loved one’s life — even if their symptoms don’t seem severe or don’t appear to fit the full criteria for a diagnosable disorder.

Anyone struggling on any level with food, weight, exercise, or body image deserves support, but knowing how to get started can be tricky. Here are the main points to consider and the questions worth asking:

When to seek treatment for an eating disorder

Identifying the early warning signs of an eating disorder can be challenging, but the odds of recovery increase when the disease is caught early, so knowing some of the signature signs can be life-saving. Here are some of the hallmark symptoms to be aware of:

  • Behaviors and attitudes that suggest extreme concern, preoccupation, and/or obsessive/compulsive thoughts & actions about weight loss, dieting, controlling food, exercise, etc.
  • Skipping meals, only eating small portions, or refusing to eat certain foods
  • Noticeable weight fluctuations, including weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty concentrating, menstrual irregularities, sleep problems, feel cold all the time, and/or have signs of impaired immune functioning
  • Appear to be hiding eating binges or hoarding food
  • Engagement in dieting behaviors (i.e. reducing the amount or types of food they eat)
  • Signs of purging their food (i.e. making frequent trips to the bathroom after meals or keeping laxatives or diuretics on-hand)

There are so many other possible signs and manifestations of disordered eating to be aware of, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. For a more comprehensive list, visit the National Eating Disorder Association website, but know that warning signs can vary dramatically from person to person and the absence or presence of one or more symptoms doesn’t guarantee a diagnosis. If you notice any thought patterns or behaviors in your loved one that spark concern, seek a professional opinion immediately and don’t discount your intuition.

How to seek treatment for an eating disorder

One of the most helpful starting points for putting together an eating disorder treatment plan may be your child’s pediatrician or loved one’s primary care physician. A primary care provider can make critical referrals so you can piece together the most comprehensive treatment team for your specific needs. Traditionally, the crucial members of a holistic eating disorder treatment team include:

  • A mental health professional including a therapist for psychological services and/or a psychiatrist for medication prescription and management
  • Medical and/or dental specialists to treat any physical issues that may have resulted from the eating disorder
  • A registered dietitian to create a therapeutic meal plan and/or provide nutrition education
  • Peer or family support members to offer advice based on their own lived experience

Assembling a team may take work, but the process often starts with a primary care provider. If you feel your loved one merits a more higher level of care than the services available in traditional outpatient settings, you may want to consider an evidence-based comprehensive recovery platform like Equip.

Questions to keep in mind or ask during your search for eating disorder treatment

There is no perfect template for eating disorder recovery — every individual’s treatment plan may be different depending on a multitude of factors. Knowing which questions to ask as you start your search for support may help guide your efforts and help you identify the approach that works best for you and your family:

  • What kind of experience does a healthcare provider have with treating eating disorders — how long have they specialized in EDs?
  • What kinds of credentials does the healthcare provider have and do they belong to a reputable organization like the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED)?
  • What are the financial implications of treatment — are the services you’re considering covered by insurance? If not, how much will they cost out-of-pocket?
  • What kinds of measurable criteria does the provider use to assess how well treatment is working?
  • What role will the family and loved ones play in the treatment process?
  • What are the physical and mental health implications of the eating disorder that need to be addressed and what’s the best strategy for addressing those?

Again, these are just a handful of the myriad considerations you may need to make as you start the process of seeking treatment. But having these questions in mind can help you start to make sense of the overwhelming amount of information out there and help you hone in on what truly matters most to you, your family, and your loved one who may be struggling.

About Equip

Equip is a virtual eating disorder treatment program helping families recover from eating disorders at home. Equip’s holistic, data-driven, gold-standard care program is delivered by a team of five care professionals, giving families confidence they’re providing the best opportunity for progress and lasting recovery.

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