Eating Disorders are complex illnesses causing changes to both the brain and the body. For this reason, in the majority of cases, there is often the need for a specialized treatment team of professionals. The team may include a primary care physician, an individual therapist, a nutritionist/dietitian, a psychiatrist, and a family therapist. It is imperative that the treatment team be collaborative to best serve the individual living with an eating disorder. Ideally, all members of the treatment team should specialize in treating eating disorders, and communication is key.
Primary Care Physician
A doctor that is knowledgeable about eating disorders should be the first step in the process of treatment and is a MUST for everyone with an eating disorder. The physician will assess the individual’s physical condition. The physician will continue to be a part of the treatment team and will monitor the person to make sure they remain medically stable. They will work in concert with the therapeutic team to decide if the individual is able to receive treatment on an outpatient basis or whether they must receive a higher level of care.
The therapist focuses on eating disorder symptoms, as well as the underlying issues that contribute to and help to maintain the eating disorder. The therapist will also assist the individual in learning steps toward recovery including healthier coping skills and stress management techniques. Types of therapy include Individual, Group, Family/Family-Based Treatment, Art, Movement, etc.
The role of the nutritionist is to stabilize nutritional status and correct any deficits. The nutritionist will help develop a nutrition plan that meets the individual’s needs, stabilizes body chemistry, and establishes healthier eating patterns. Their goal is not to change eating habits overnight, but to build a healthier relationship with food for their client.
Psychopharmacological intervention is an important part of treatment for many of those living with eating disorders. The psychiatrist can prescribe medication to help improve mood disturbances (i.e. depression and anxiety). Medications may also help curb obsessive and compulsive thoughts and rituals.
Physical changes in one’s mouth can be evidence that an eating disorder is present. Studies show that up to 89% of individuals with Bulimia Nervosa show signs of tooth erosion, and 28% are first diagnosed by dental professionals. In addition, Anorexia Nervosa can harm teeth and reduce bone in the mouth causing teeth to loosen and fall out. A full dental exam will identify these issues.
The benefit of peer support, within supervised support groups, can be a tremendous adjunct to individual providers on the treatment team. They offer the individual a forum to practice what they have learned in treatment. Support groups create a sense of community and understanding for those living with and/or in recovery from an eating disorder.