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Eating Disorder Professional Treatment - Nutritional Rehabilitation

Bridget Engel, Psy.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

image by Bonnie Brown (lic)If you or anyone you know has the symptoms of an eating disorder, seek help from a professional trained in the diagnosis and treatment of such conditions. It is especially dangerous to try to treat an eating disorder without professional medical consultation! These conditions are complex and require the care of a treatment team, including a medical doctor and a licensed mental health therapist.

One of the first steps to getting well is being evaluated by mental health and medical professionals. This evaluation will generally include an interview with you (the "patient" who is displaying the eating disorder symptoms) and your family. The interviewer will ask for a detailed medical and mental health history. You will be asked verbal questions, as well as given paper and pencil (or computerized) tests to fill out. You may be given one or more of a variety of screening tools that have been developed to assess behavior, symptoms, attitudes and risk factors of eating disorders. Some of these include questionnaires such as the:

  • Perceived Body Image Scale (PBIS)
  • Beck Depression Inventory (BDI)
  • Trauma Symptom Inventory (TSI)
  • Bulimia Test (BULIT-R)
  • Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI)
  • Eating Attitudes Test (EAT)

It is important to be as honest as possible when answering questions, even though they may be difficult or painful to answer. You may feel ashamed and embarrassed, especially if your eating behavior has caused significant health changes, or has happened for a long time. However, hiding information will affect the ability of your therapist and doctor to get you the best help possible for your condition.

If you are diagnosed with an eating disorder, the professional will then make recommendations for treatment. They will start with a full medical examination. A dental exam should also be completed, particularly if you have been purging.

During the medical exam, the doctor will complete a routine physical. He/she will also ask you about your eating habits, diet, and physical symptoms of the disease. You will have laboratory and other tests done. These will check for any medical complications that your disordered eating may have caused and evaluate how well your body systems are working. Test results will also serve as a baseline for future comparisons to check whether treatment is helping. During treatment, a medical doctor will continue to monitor physical health, including ongoing checks on vital signs, hydration level and electrolytes.

Nutritional Rehabilitation

Treatment will have multiple parts and will be individual to your needs. The first priority of treatment is to regain physical health and decrease the medical dangers of the condition. Nutritional rehabilitation is often one of the primary goals in the beginning and the ongoing stages of treatment.

Because many individuals with eating disorders are very knowledgeable about nutrition, they often believe that they don't need to work with a nutritionist. However, nutritional knowledge may be distorted by the faulty thinking that results from an eating disorders. A licensed registered dietitian will:

  • help you return to a normal weight in a healthy manner
  • stop using laxatives (if necessary)
  • set realistic and healthy eating and exercise goals
  • plan meals
  • recognize hunger cues
  • make healthy food choices
  • help you recognize your distorted thinking about food and weight
  • teach you about the nutritional dangers of your behaviors

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