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How do you treat an eating disorder?

Program Types

There are many types of programs for people with eating disorders. They usually have several kinds of professionals and offer different services and treatments. Different programs offer different levels of care. In most eating disorder programs, there are at least a few types of therapy. Some programs also include treatment for medical problems caused by eating disorders. People are usually placed in a program based on their individual needs, symptoms and situation. Every person is different, and so what works for one may not work for another. People often go through a number of programs as they work their way towards recovery.

“With the support from my mom I found therapy, structure, and hospitalization at the St. Paul Hospital Eating Disorder program. I more or less lived there for 2 years. During that time I went through intense cognitive, behavioural, and group therapy.” ~ Amy

This section describes the different types of programs for individuals with eating disorders.

Outpatient Treatment
Most people do not stay in the hospital while they are treated for an eating disorder. They usually receive outpatient treatment at a clinic in their community, in a doctor’s office, or at a hospital. Treatment can be for the individual, group, or family.

The best treatment involves a team of specialists. The team may include two or more professionals, such as:

  • a therapist or other mental health professional
  • a general physician or pediatrician
  • a dietitian
  • a psychiatrist

There is good evidence that outpatient treatments can be very helpful in reducing eating disorder symptoms. There are also advantages to outpatient treatment over other treatments, like staying in hospital on an inpatient unit. The outpatient is usually able to stay connected and get more support from their friends and family. But it is only appropriate as long as the individual is safe and medically stable.

Day Treatment
People who have day treatment for eating disorders spend their days at the hospital and go home to sleep. Most of these programs run 5 days a week for 3 to 8 hours a day. That means a person can live at home while undergoing treatment and continue to go to work or school. People who have stopped work or school may slowly return to the job or studies during their treatment.

A day treatment program usually offers a mix of:

  • group therapy
  • meal support
  • individual therapy
  • nutritional counselling
  • arts-based therapy

Day programs for people with eating disorders usually includes meals and snacks. The menu is carefully planned to meet the needs of each individual. The staff provide help and encouragement during meals and snacks, as it can be a very stressful time.

bedroom-1230377Inpatient Treatment
If you sleep at the hospital during treatment for an eating disorder, it is called inpatient treatment. It is recommended when a person’s symptoms make it unsafe to be at home or when an outpatient isn’t making much progress.

When inpatient care is necessary, it is best if the person comes to the hospital willingly and agrees to treatment. But some people refuse help even if they have a life-threatening condition or may harm themselves. In these cases, a psychiatrist may need to admit them to the hospital for safety.

Inpatients have access to care and supervision 24 hours a day. They can take part in programs that offer several different therapies from individual counselling, to family therapy, to arts-based therapy. Inpatients also have staff support for meals and snacks.

Residential Care
This kind of program is similar to inpatient treatment. It is for people who need more support than outpatient therapy can offer, but do not need the same medical care as inpatients. They may have symptoms that are very dangerous to their health, but they are in good enough physical health to be considered medically stable. Some residential care is available in hospital settings. Other residential care centers are in homes or on private properties.

People in residential care can take part in activities that help them learn about the triggers that contribute to disordered eating. They learn how to take responsibility for their own recovery. There are often several types of group therapy available. People in residential care are usually ready to work on recovering from their illness. It may be the best choice if you live too far away from a treatment center to get to day treatment. It is also an option if structured care at home is not possible, or if it has been difficult to make progress with other kinds of treatment.

Resource List

  • Inventory of Eating Disorders Treatment Programs in BC ( English )
Types Of Disorders: How do I know if I have an eating disorder? Finding Help: Where can I find help?

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