Eating Disorders: Treatment Team Includes Registered Dietitian
Eating disorders are serious illnesses that affect approximately 8 million Americans. One of the more common eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, has the highest death rate of any mental illness. The risks related to these illnesses include life threatening medical and nutritional complications, such as heart disease and bone loss. In addition, psychiatric conditions including anxiety and depression may increase one’s health risk and complicate the treatment approach for recovery.
Because eating disorders have mental health, as well as, medical and nutritional aspects, a team approach to treating these illnesses is most effective. Nutrition counseling by a trained Registered Dietitian is an essential component of the treatment team for recovering from eating disorders.
The dietitian’s goal of nutrition therapy is to normalize the individual’s eating patterns and support them in reaching a healthy weight. While some individuals will require weight restoration, not everyone with an eating disorder is malnourished or underweight. Family-based therapy is also warranted in many cases as supportive relationships with friends and family are very important to the recovery process.
Nutrition counseling includes education about respecting the body’s need for nutrients, mindful eating and enjoyment of food. Individuals will also learn how to distinguish between emotional and physical hunger, and how to portion foods and plan meals. Establishing a trusting relationship with the health care provider and dietitian is critical for making progress in recovering from an eating disorder.
While teens and young adult women are the most common demographic profile of individuals with eating disorders, anyone can suffer from these unhealthy eating patterns. Eating disorders can appear at any age, and in recent years, more men have been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Individuals with anorexia nervosa exhibit an exaggerated drive for thinness, fear of gaining weight, and refusal to maintain a healthy body weight. Overwhelming urges to overeat and inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as vomiting, using laxatives or excessive exercise are characteristics of bulimia nervosa. Similar to anorexia nervosa, individuals with bulimia display a fear of being overweight. Another type of eating disorder is binge eating. Binge eating disorder is repeated episodes of overconsumption of food with a sense of lack of control. Some individuals have some but not all of these behavior symptoms.
Eating disorders are not purely a matter of personal choice or family dysfunction. Research indicates that the etiology of eating disorders is a complex interaction between genetics, neurobiology, personality characteristics, and environment. Because of the alterations in chemicals in the brain, clinicians describe eating disorders as “brain disorders.” Individuals with eating disorders frequently have common personality traits such as perfectionism, obsessive compulsiveness, anxiety and depression. Symptoms such as anxiety and depression may be worsened by the malnutrition and resolved by increasing body weight to a healthy range.
If an individual suspects he or she may have an eating disorder, they should receive treatment as soon as possible to reduce the risk of theses dangerous complications. Early treatment also gives the greatest chance for a full recovery.
Ginger Meyer, MS, RD, LD