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4 Crucial Steps to Take When a Loved One Gets An Eating Disorder Diagnosis

In spite of great strides being made within the past few years, eating disorders are still often misunderstood. The good thing is that more high-quality eating disorder treatment centers that offer eating disorder treatment programs that are tailored to the individual are available today than ever before. Taking the following crucial steps can help the process unfold more smoothly and the individual recover successfully.

Eating Disorders: The Facts

It is estimated that eating disorders of all types affect about 30 million people in the United States. These serious medical conditions — which can lead to health problems or even death if left untreated — cross all boundaries of gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, and other similar attributes. The three most common categories of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

There’s an Eating Disorder Diagnosis. Now What?

After a loved one has an eating disorder diagnosis, the family, friends and other people close to them might wonder what are the most crucial steps that they should take next. The following are a few suggestions to help provide some guidelines during this time which is often confusing and scary.

  1. Learn More

Now that a loved one has a diagnosis, it is a good idea for those closest to them to learn more about their condition. Many great strides have been made in research and treatment within the past few decades. This has greatly improved both the understanding behind these complex disorders and given way to innovative treatment options that provide hope, compassion, and support for the individual as they strive to fully recover.

  1. Get Professional Help

While a medical doctor such as a primary care physician might have been the professional to make the eating disorder diagnosis, there are a number of other options for receiving professional help. Certainly, a person’s personal doctor will be a good source of information regarding options for treatment and the next steps that should be taken to address this potentially fatal condition.

A therapist is another excellent choice when it comes to finding professional help. If the individual has been accessing therapy on a regular basis, the therapist might not be surprised by the eating disorder diagnosis and might already have a list of resources stockpiled for when they were needed.

  1. Acknowledge Their Feelings

Strong emotions and denials of the diagnosis are not uncommon when it comes to those individuals who have an eating disorder. The loved one might also be scared and confused — both about the diagnosis that they just received and what it means for them in the future in terms of their recovery and their lives. It is important to not only acknowledge those feelings but to also empathize with them.

A loved one who has just been given a diagnosis of having an eating disorder might feel even more alone and like no one understands them. Offer to help them find the treatment that meets their needs. For example, some people want to try to stay close to home so that their support system can visit them often while others might embrace the idea of getting away from the stressors that family and friends have placed on them.

Though it can be difficult to be objective during this challenging time, it is important for family and friends to support their loved ones. Getting them the help they need to fully recover must be the number one focus.

  1. Ensure Follow Through

On the other hand, it is equally important to not allow the loved one to promise to call their therapist for recommendations for eating disorder facilities but not to follow through. It is also vital that a variety of treatment options for eating disorders are explored and that the individual is held accountable.

The list of reasons why a loved one might not follow through on getting the help they need from an eating disorder recovery center can be long — and sound very valid. After all, it could be that the fact that they have an eating disorder does not seem to be a big issue with them. Another common complaint is that the individual has simply been too busy to call this doctor or make an appointment with that outpatient eating disorder treatment center. Some treatment options for eating disorders can seem to be too expensive, making the thought of finding affordable treatment simply overwhelming.

Providing assistance in the form of reminders and offers to help can go a long way in bridging the gap between diagnosis and action.

  1. Don’t Settle

The first medical professional or therapist that an individual attempt to connect with might not be the best fit — and that’s okay. Not every person is going to click with every professional that is trying to help them. The important thing to remember is to not let this setback discourage the individual from seeking the help they need or for their family and friends to become discouraged that their efforts to find someone to help did not work out.

In some cases, the individual who has been diagnosed with an eating disorder might realize right away that a particular clinician or eating disorder facility is not the right one for them. In other cases, this realization might dawn on them after they have been seeing the professional for a few visits. It can seem like treatment is going well and then there is a setback because the person does not feel like the clinician’s style or approach works with them.

Understanding that finding the right treatment is a process can make it easier to move down the list of names and contact the next one in line. The loved ones, family and friends of the individual with the eating disorder diagnosis are a vital component of their support system. As such, they need to encourage the individual to continue looking and to not give up.

  1. Insist on a Thorough Medical Checkup

Even if the individual’s primary care physician is the professional that provided the eating disorder diagnosis, there might not have been enough office time for a thorough medical checkup. Because all eating disorders can cause a variety of medical issues, it is important to be aware of their potential side effects on the body. While regular medical care is vital to ensure that any issues are caught early, it is also important to ensure that there is not an immediate health risk that must be addressed prior to looking for eating disorder treatment.

  1. Highlight the Positive of Getting Well

Overcoming their reluctance to seek help from an outpatient eating disorder treatment center or other similar treatment option for eating disorders is sometimes one of the most difficult challenges that family and friends must overcome.

One idea that could help sway the individual to get help is to point out that getting treatment for their eating disorder also means that related, co-occurring conditions will also be addressed as well. This means that solutions for the depression, anxiety, and OCD they are facing could be discovered. Similarly, the physical aspects of an eating disorder, such as fatigue, social isolation, and insomnia that are common will be eliminated.

Another tactic that might be useful is to remind the person of the things that they want to accomplish with their lives. Perhaps they had planned to study abroad or head to the other end of the country in search of their dream job. This reminder of life before the eating disorder took over can add a sense of normalcy and encouragement that could be just the push they need to seek treatment.

The right treatment center can also make a difference. A residential program that offers luxurious accommodations in a beautiful setting reminds one of the comforts of home. Staffed by a caring and compassionate team, it provides the ideal environment for recovery.

  1. Research Treatment Options

As mentioned previously, a great deal of research has been generated in the field of eating disorders. This means that treatment options for eating disorders have also changed as well. Today, most eating disorder facilities have treatment options that are divided into either residential or outpatient eating disorder treatment. Within the latter, treatment is further divided into options such as partial hospitalization, day treatment, and supervised living — to name just a few.

While the individual — as well as their family and friends — might have very specific ideas on what kind of treatment is best, only the professionals who see hundreds of other people who face the same challenges can make a professional recommendation. After a thorough exam and interview, the clinical team makes its recommendation regarding the type of programs are best.

There are a number of factors that play into the decision to recommend either residential — also sometimes called inpatient — treatment or outpatient treatment. For instance, the severity of the eating disorder and the frequency that the individual is engaging in the behaviors are both important elements of that decision-making process. Another key component that the clinical team will consider is how at-risk the person is in regards to their physical health. Determining the impact that the behaviors and thoughts surrounding food have on the person is also taken into consideration when making the determination between residential and outpatient treatment.

In general, outpatient treatment is the least restrictive and provides intensive programming during the evening about three times each week. This usually includes group therapy. A partial hospitalization program that offers programming five days per week is more structured and can provide those individuals who need it with more support while still enabling them to go home to their own bed at night. A residential program provides access to 24-hour care, can offer a home-like atmosphere and include outings, group counseling and individual sessions with a psychiatrist — among other features.

  1. Determine if a Co-Occurring Mental Health Condition Is Present

In many cases, an individual who is experiencing an eating disorder also has a co-occurring mental health condition as well. While sometimes loved ones, family and friends are not aware of the presence of these other conditions, there are often well known to those people who are closest to the individual.

It can be difficult to know if the co-occurring mental health condition contributed to the eating disorder or came about as the result of the eating disorder. It can be a vicious cycle in which an individual feels like they don’t measure up to others in areas that are important to them such as their looks and sports performance. This can lead to feelings of inferiority and prompt them to change their eating habits in an effort to fit their ideal or the standards that have been set by someone important in their lives such as a coach or family member.

In other cases, the eating disorder might have occurred first and then the feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with themselves followed. An example is someone who struggles with binge eating disorder. They might have started binge eating out of boredom or because of stress in their lives. As their weight changed – which often happens – their self-confidence shrank. This can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions that need to be diagnosed by a professional who is trained in eating disorders. Doing so allows them to be addressed using the right types of treatment.

Monte Nido provides a range of different eating disorder treatment programs to meet the needs of adolescents, women, and men who have an eating disorder. Because providing individuals with comprehensive care that is continuous is an important aspect of recovery, Monte Nido offers both outpatient treatment options and residential facilities. Their luxurious residential facilities allow individuals to enjoy all the warmth and welcoming that they would experience at home but while under the close watch of trained medical and clinical staff. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.





Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.