Treating an eating disorder

How do know you if you have an eating disorder?

It may be that you think that what you do isn’t that different at all but that your parents or other people in your environment think it is. In that case, they might often ask you how you are doing and whether you are eating right and healthy. If you have less desire to see your friends, that may also be a sign. Another sign may be sudden weight loss or weight gain. Instead of losing a lot of weight, it may also be that you stopping growing or, if you are a girl, you haven’t gotten your period while your female friends already have. To know whether you have an eating disorder, it is best to visit your general practitioner, who may ask you to keep track of what, how much and when you eat each day. If the general practitioner thinks that you might have an eating disorder, you will be referred to a physician, psychologist and/or psychiatrist. By conducting interviews and tests, they will examine whether you actually have an eating disorder and how you can be helped to be healthy and happy again.

Will it go away?

The younger you are, the greater the chance is that it will go away. It also helps a lot if you want to get better yourself. Naturally, you will need help doing so (see below). Afterwards, you’ll probably feel like doing things with your friends and classmates again and achieving your goals. If you don’t get any help, it will be a lot more difficult to get rid of your eating disorder and the chance will be significantly larger that it will continue to be difficult to eat normally.

Treatment

When your problems are better identified, a psychologist will work with you and your parents to design a good plan to help you feel better. It may be that you will also talk with a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a doctor who decides whether you also need medication to help you feel better. Your family is often also involved in the treatment. You will have individual sessions as well as sessions with the whole family. There are different types of treatment:

For yourself

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy: Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches you which thoughts and feelings perpetuate your eating disorder. Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches to act and think differently so that you are less afraid to eat and so that you regain a sense of what normal eating is. For example, you learn step-by-step how you can prevent yourself from binge eating and that you won’t get really fat from a normal portion size.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy: Sometimes, you have experienced something difficult and you feel that your eating disorder helps you deal with it. You feel that you can alleviate what you went through by keeping yourself occupied with your eating disorder. Because the eating disorder is not a good solution to your problems, interpersonal psychotherapy helps you resolve them in the right way.
  • Dietary management: Because you have an eating disorder, you probably don’t know anymore what it’s like to eat normally and what is really healthy for you. A dietitian can help you with this, so you can learn to eat normally again.
  • Medication: Sometimes you don’t want to be helped or you feel so bad that you don’t think that you are capable of being helped. If you are afraid that you are becoming sicker or unhappier without your eating disorder, you can be given medication for this. Antipsychotic medication helps you to feel less afraid. It may also be that you feel really bad and don’t want to do anything. If this is the case, you can be prescribed SSRIs, which will help you feel a bit happier and want to do things again. Because an eating disorder can also damage your body, it may sometimes also be necessary for you to take medication that improves not only mental state but your physical state as well. Keep in mind that the medication you take can have adverse effects, which means that you may actually begin to experience other problems.

For your parents

Family and multifamily treatment: In this treatment, you are treated at the same time as other families which have a child with an eating disorder. The eating disorder is tackled together with the other families. Your parents teach themselves and you how to deal with your eating disorder and, together with the other families, you all try to begin eating normally and regularly again. Your parents also learn tactics to protect you against thoughts and feelings that perpetuate your eating disorder.

Would you like to know more about eating disorders or eating disorders in young children?

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