Eating Disorder Treatment

Eating disorders affect anywhere from 2-10% of the population, with most people struggling with food for 1-5+ years. Eating disorders, most commonly refusal to eat food, are complicated and often relate to social and psychosocial input and beliefs alongside mental health problems and emotional or stress management. And, while common, an estimated 1.3% of young women have anorexia nervosa at any given time, eating disorders are debilitating, cause permanent physical harm and health problems, and can result in death.

If you or a loved one is struggling with your relationship with food, it’s important to get help. For most of us, that means seeking out a diagnosis, mental support, and behavioral therapy. And, eating disorders have a very high rate of successful treatment. In fact, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, as delivered by Compassion Recovery, is the most successful and most-recommended treatment option for eating disorders.

At Compassion Recovery we use evidence-based treatment, primarily Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to help our patients.

This begins with treating threatening problems and behaviors first, followed by improving motivation for treatment, and then to treating underlying problems, so you can make a full recovery.

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are any of a number of food-related disorders in which someone eats too little, too much, or forces regurgitation or defecation following eating. The Diagnostics and Statistics Manual for Mental Health Disorders (Volume 5), commonly known as the DSM V, breaks this into 8 primary eating disorders – with 13 additional disorders.

In every case, the eating disorder is a reflection of an unhealthy relationship with food. Here, this can involve physical weight and perceptions of being overweight or not thin enough, it can involve comfort eating and binge eating, or it can involve preoccupation with self-punishment. Without a psychological assessment and diagnosis, it can be difficult to specifically tell why someone has an unhealthy relationship with food.

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Different Types of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders fall under 8 primary types, each of which can have extremely different symptoms and causes. Each needs its own assessment, custom treatment plan, and personalization of the treatment program to ensure it tackles individual behavioral problems.

photo of a woman eating large amount of food binge eating
Binge Eating Disorder

Bing eating disorder is the habit of consuming large quantities of food on an episodic basis. Normally, binge eating disorder is accompanied by feelings of guilt or shame when eating, eating when not hungry, and lack of any compensatory activities such as exercise.

photo of a female hand holding a soap

The individual eats non-nutritional and non “edible” objects such as soap, paper, chalk, hair, etc. This must be repetitive and should continue for at least one month to warrant a diagnosis. Often, it overlaps with other mental health diagnoses such as schizophrenia or autism, especially in young children.

photo of a woman with ARFID doesn't like food

The individual avoids or purges food because they dislike the sensation of food or otherwise have an aversion to eating. This is different from Anorexia Nervosa in that it is not connected with body image of dysmorphia.

photo of a man with eating disorder

Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder refers to any eating disorder symptoms which meet criteria but do not qualify for a full Anorexia or Bulimia diagnosis.

photo of large amount of unhealthy foods

Other Specific Feeding or Eating Disorder is any eating disorder which is classified as an eating disorder, but which does not meet specific criteria. For example, someone who shows symptoms of bulimia but has not had symptoms long enough for a diagnosis. Compulsive overeating, restricting food intake in order to drink alcohol, night eating syndrome, pregorexia, and muscle dysmorphia may all fall under this category.

photo of a Woman Vomiting
Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by patterns of binging and then purging food or binging and then fasting. Here, the individual wants to prevent weight gain, but normally does not have extreme body dysmorphia. This means they are not usually underweight, or at least not to the same extent as someone with Anorexia Nervosa.

photo of a man with anorexia nervosa
Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is the most common eating disorder, affecting an estimated 1.3% of all young women in a given year. A further 4% of women will have Anorexia Nervosa at some point during their lives. This disorder is characterized by restrictive diets and calorie intake, with the primary intent of preventing weight gain, of weight loss, and of managing body dysmorphia. Anorexia Nervosa may take the form of restricting diets, excessive exercise, purging food (vomiting/laxatives). Anorexia Nervosa is diagnosed by extremely low weight, with diagnosis normally beginning at BMIs under 18.

Eating Disorders in Men and Boys

While eating disorders are most commonly publicized as affecting girls and women, they are very common in men and boys. This is especially true as men and boys tend to see heavily muscular and idealized versions of men in media – resulting in eating disorders such as excessive exercise, Anorexia, excessive reliance on stimulants, and even extreme dehydration to achieve perceived necessary levels of muscularity.

Unfortunately, men are also significantly more likely to hide eating disorders, as eating disorders are frequently seen as feminine. This means we don’t have the same statistics on how Anorexia, Bulimia, and other eating disorders affect men. In addition, men are less likely to get help, more likely to attempt suicide as the disorder gets worse, and significantly less likely to make a healthy recovery on their own. This means that intervening may be more important for men than it is for women – simply because men are less likely to get help on their own.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

There are many types of eating disorders but all of them are characterized by an unhealthy relationship with food. In most cases, this must be assessed and diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist. If you or a loved one is having trouble with food, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor before moving forward.

However, most eating disorders have relatively straightforward symptoms:
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss, not explainable by a medical condition such as a thyroid problem, diabetes, or cancer
  • Frequently binge eating or consuming large quantities of food and/or doing so while being underweight / or doing so while expressing shame about doing so
  • Spending significant and unhealthy amounts of time in the gym or exercising, to the point of exhaustion. Frequently exercising to the point of complete exhaustion
  • Unhealthy relationships with food – e.g., refusing to eat certain foods such as fruit or wheat because it may make them “fat”
  • Body dysmorphia – an image of themselves that is vastly at odds with their actual body type. E.g., complaining of being overweight when they are underweight
  • Purging behaviors, such as vomiting, using laxatives, or taking medication to stimulate diarrhea
  • Refusal to eat or eating only the barest amount. Especially if they only eat one food. E.g., tomatoes are a common choice.

Eating disorders can result in weight gain, weight loss, or malnutrition. In some cases, people might develop relationships around food that have nothing to do with physical appearance. These can involve chewing and regurgitating food and then chewing it again. It might also involve something like managing insulin levels with extreme food management. Essentially, food disorders take many forms and diagnosing them means understanding that people’s relationships with food are complicated.

Getting Help for Eating Disorders at Compassion Recovery

Eating disorders are complicated and can be caused by mental health disorders, by personality traits, by having a physical problem such as celiac disease, having experienced emotional and physical abuse (especially as a child), by peer pressure, by cultural pressure, and by many other factors. Eating disorders are complicated, so treatment must be as well.

At Compassion Recovery, we use evidence-based treatment programs, customized to your individual needs and problems. Our goal is to treat underlying problems while giving you the tools and skills to live a happy and balanced life outside of recovery. That starts with CBT.

Confident psychologist together with his patients during their care group meeting

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective treatment for most eating disorders. In most cases, this treatment involves assessing underlying problems and treating those by building new behaviors. It also involves tackling problems in the order of criticality, such as first getting someone to eat, then tackling motivation to recovery, and then assessing underlying problems.

a young lady with anxiety and depression during therapy session
Interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy is often about creating and setting goals with a therapist, with the intent of reaching those goals. For example, that could mean assessing weight and body dysmorphia and working towards moving around that. It could also mean assessing how emotions, interpersonal perceptions, peer pressure, and social pressure impact eating patterns and habits.

compassion recovery photo of a group during a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Group Therapy

Group therapy is one of the most common treatments for eating disorders, primarily because it tackles the social aspect of eating disorders. That’s true for both men and women, where eating disorders often take on a role of shame and stigma. People feel or are isolated, are ashamed of their inability to eat in a healthy way and create negative feedback loops in which they use food restriction or binging to punish themselves further for problems with food. Group therapy helps participants to understand they are not alone, many people experience the same pressures and stresses they do, and to see how the effects of eating disorders look on someone else – whom they are more likely to be able to see without dysmorphia affecting the opinion. That can result in understanding their own eating habits and the behaviors of the people around them.

a young handsome man during a counseling session with the psychologist

Counseling for eating disorder treatment includes help with emotions, help with cravings, help with the desire to purge, and even nutritional counseling. This might involve advice on how and when to eat, dietary assistance, dietary planning, and full oversight from a program manager. Because every person’s eating disorder is unique, their counseling program must be as well.

Compassion Recovery delivers fully personalized treatment programs, centered around specific needs, and designed to tackle specific problems. That means we help you to recognize and move through the actual causes of the eating disorder, while treating the symptoms, and while building skills to recover and live a healthy and happy life.

How Can I Get Help at Compassion Recovery?

If you’re ready to get started with Compassion Recovery, we are here to help. Our Orange County-based clinic offers partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and even virtual treatment options. That gives you ever option to seek out treatment and care, whether you have the time to visit us in our clinic or have responsibilities to attend to at home. Our partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs are the most recommended treatment options for eating disorders – as they offer the best combination of efficacy and value. In fact, 65% of patients undergoing partial hospitalization for eating disorders have maintained full recovery at 12 months post treatment. If you’re not sure, you can always call us at (877) 414-3007 for a free consultation and assistance on choosing a program.

If you or a loved one is struggling, there is help.

Compassion Recovery is here, with evidence-based treatment, personalized programs,
and fully licensed staff who are ready to help you.