Treatments for Anorexia
Anorexia Nervosa is complex condition, and it can take a number of different professionals working together to treat it. The first step towards getting help is usually by approaching your GP. The GP should be able to make a diagnosis and diagnose what sort of eating disorder they think you have. They may ask for a specialist to see you and make an assessment of your treatment needs. Often a referral to the local mental heath team and a psychiatrist or psychologist may be necessary.
Eating disorders affect the sufferer physically as well as emotionally. If the sufferer is at a very low weight, starting to eat again will be a priority. Treatment may well focus on this in the first instance, aiming to restore the patient to a healthy weight and encourage healthy eating patterns. Treatment will also be provided to address any associated physical complications.
Some psychological therapy should be offered to help deal with the emotional difficulties the eating disorder has caused and to address any other mental health problems. Treatments used include individual psychological therapy, family therapy and sometimes drug therapy using antidepressants.
Children and teenagers may be offered family therapy. This is not because the whole family is ill too; it is because having the family involved in helping you get well has proven to be the most effective.
A dietician can help with meal plans and food choices.
The sooner the sufferer seeks help the more likely treatment will be successful. Anorexia is a potentially life threatening illness but can be treated if the sufferer is willing or can be persuaded to seek help.
Most specialist treatment takes place as an out-patient. Only the most seriously ill people and those who are physically very frail – eg if weight loss is more than 1-2kg per week and/or if the sufferer’s weight falls to less than 20-25% of normal body weight – need to be treated on an in-patient basis and stay in a hospital ward or special eating disorders unit.
The types and availability of treatment varies around the country and different types of help may be offered. Treatment should include dealing with the emotional as well as the physical issues but this must be done quite slowly so that you can cope with the changes. Help with eating and simply regaining weight is usually not enough by itself. Unfortunately there is a lack of resources available for the treatment of eating disorders and treatments vary enormously.
If someone is so ill their life is at risk, they can be treated even if they don’t want to be. This is called a ‘Mental Health Act Assessment’ where two medical doctors and an approved social worker assess the patient to decide whether the patient is medically and mentally capable of coping at home or whether they need treatment in hospital. If they decide the patient needs to be in hospital and the patient refuses they can be taken to hospital for treatment under the Mental Health Act under Section. This is rare but it does happen.
In extreme circumstances and if someone’s life is at risk, a patient can be fed or treated against their wishes under a Mental Health Act ‘Section’. This is a last resort and all other avenues to try to address treatment will usually be tried first. Only if a patient refuses all attempts to engage with treatment and their life is at risk will this be implemented is my experience.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for the treatment for eating disorders are the basis for most treatment in England and Wales.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is one type of psychological therapy which is particularly helpful in treating anorexia, working to change unhelpful thought patterns, behaviours and beliefs concerning food and body image.