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Understanding Treatment Options for Eating Disorders

It takes a great deal of courage to acknowledge that one has an eating disorder—but with that acknowledgment can come motivation to begin the process of treatment. Most eating disorder treatment centers offer a variety of eating disorder treatment programs. The first stage of the recovery process is identifying which treatment options for eating disorders are ideal for one’s specific circumstances.

Eating Disorder Recovery—Understanding Treatment Options

Whether one is seeking a binge eating disorder treatment program, a treatment program for anorexia nervosa or a program for treating bulimia nervosa, the programs one finds will generally fall into two major categories—residential and day treatment.  Understanding the main characteristic of each of these categories makes it easier to choose a program.

Residential Eating Disorder Treatment

Residential eating disorder programs are  a type of program where the patient goes to stay at the eating disorder recovery center. Residential treatment may last anywhere from 30 days to six months or more, depending on the needs of the patient. There are many advantages of residential treatment. Some of the key points to understand about residential treatment include:

Residential treatment is fully immersive.

Residential programs for binge eating disorder treatment, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are all immersive experiences. Patients live at the center and their lives are structured around healing. The day to day routine may include group therapy, individual therapy, and holistic practices like yoga, meditation, and art therapy. The center is staffed by professionals who are all focused on helping patients heal, so there is always someone available when help is needed. It allows patients to work through relationship and environmental challenges that may contribute to the disorder.

The relationships and environments that patients deal with in their everyday life often have an impact on their disorders. These factors can be quite powerful, making it difficult for patients to avoid falling back into negative habits. One of the great advantages of a residential program is it allows individuals to step away from these things and focus fully on recovery. The skills patients learn in treatment allow them to return to their lives with a more balanced relationship with food and movement.

Residential programs are helpful for treating co-occurring conditions like anxiety and depression.

Eating disorders are often accompanied by other mental health presentations such as anxiety and depression. Trying to recover from an eating disorder without addressing anxiety and/or depression can be challenging. Residential programs include mental health professionals who are well-equipped to treat anxiety, depression and most other mental health issues along with eating disorders. Once a patient’s mental health has been addressed, learning to form a balanced relationship with food is made less difficult.

Eating disorders can put a great amount of strain on the body, so any eating disorder facilities where patients come to live must have a high level of medical capabilities. The fact that doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are on-staff means that the most comprehensive centers are equipped to care for patients who have medical issues.

Ongoing monitoring means that severe eating disorder behaviors can be addressed.

The support offered by the staff at a residential center is useful for more than just keeping patients comfortable—it means that individuals suffering from eating disorders can learn and grow through consistent application. The residential team is there at all hours of the day, so if a patient is struggling there is someone there to step in and intervene when necessary. Ideally, this kind of consistent application should lead to a more complete recovery as the patient is able to move beyond self-destructive behaviors.

Not everyone lives near a large city or town where eating disorder treatment centers are abundant. For these individuals, it may be more difficult to make the journey for regular treatment sessions in an outpatient setting. With a residential program, there is no need to travel back and forth repeatedly. The individual can go to the center and get the intensive treatment he or she needs to recover.

The idea of devoting a month or more to a binge eating disorder treatment program or another type of eating disorder treatment center can be intimidating. Residential programs can be very effective for treating all types of eating disorders, but that does not mean that residential treatment is required for every individual seeking treatment. Eating disorder day treatment can also be effective. Whether residential or day treatment is the right option must be determined by the individual’s doctor, therapist and the treatment center.

Eating Disorder Day Treatment

While day treatment utilizes many of the same types of treatment offered at residential programs—including group therapy and individual therapy—there are some significant differences. During day treatment, the individual does not live at the treatment center. Instead, the patient will visit the center on a schedule to receive treatment. When not receiving treatment, the individual may continue with school, work, family obligations, etc. Some of the factors to consider about day treatment include:

It is less disruptive to the life of the patient.

 As long as the patient’s doctor or therapist believes that day treatment will be sufficient, eating disorder day treatment can prove a viable option to support recovery.

Outpatient treatment is excellent for less severe instances of an eating disorder.

The spectrum of eating disorders can range from minor to severe. With severe eating disorders, there may be a need for intensive, 24/7 treatment to achieve recovery. While day treatment programming is available to graduates of a residential program or those in outpatient therapy that need a higher level of support. When a doctor or therapist recommends day treatment, he or she has determined that getting treatment on a regular basis—adhering to a day treatment schedule—will most likely be sufficient to address the disorder.

An outpatient program can provide significant benefits to patients who have completed a residential program.

Residential programs can be truly transformative, giving patients a new outlook on life and the tools they need to be fully recovered in the real world. But no matter how effective the treatment, the stresses of day-to-day life can and do take their toll. These stresses can be enough to derail a recovered individual, which is why many graduates choose to continue with day treatment. A day treatment program allows patients to reconnect with the support of recovery specialists, and serve as a great refresher on the tools needed to live a recovered life.


Choosing Which Program Is Right for the Patient

For those who want to recover from an eating disorder, the decision on which program to pick can be an emotional one. The challenge is understandable—the patient and often the family of the patient are seeking help for a condition that can be incredibly destructive and even life-threatening. Given how much is at stake, it is important to emphasize the value of informed advice. It is the patient’s doctor and/or therapist who is most qualified to guide the decision.

No matter how tempting it can be for patients and families to make a decision on their own, the doctor and/or therapist should always be consulted—and listened to. It can also be helpful to consult with the staff at eating disorder treatment programs. They are trained to help with the decision-making process and can advise patients and their families on which treatment options are most likely to produce the desired outcome.

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido, 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.