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No one is truly ready for receiving an eating disorder diagnosis. It’s a scary situation and most people aren’t ready for it, even if they’ve known something was wrong for years. Despite these factors, a full recovery from an eating disorder is possible with treatment, and over the years the experts at eating disorder treatment centers have laid out some ground rules about what to do when you or a loved one needs help.

How Common Are Eating Disorders?

NEDA and other institutions indicate that eating disorders of all types affect about 30 million people in the United States alone. These serious mental and physical health disorders– which can lead to health problems or even death if left untreated –occur in people regardless of gender, race, age, or socioeconomic status. The three most common categories of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

What Can I Do to Fight an Eating Disorder?

First, don’t panic. Although you or your loved one might be feeling nervous or despondent, there is help available and cause for hope that recovery is possible. Then, take the following steps to get started on treatment.

  1. Educate Yourself About Eating Disorders

Once a professional has made an eating disorder diagnosis, it is a good idea for both the individual and their close friends and family to learn more about their condition. The widespread improvement in awareness and information about eating disorders has greatly improved the understanding behind these complex disorders. You can check out NEDA’s page here, or learn more on our blog here.

  1. Talk to a Professional

Although the initial eating disorder diagnosis may have been made by your family doctor or a therapist, there are several other options for receiving professional help. You can follow up with the person who made the diagnosis, and they’ll be able to refer you to a specialist in eating disorder recovery.

A therapist is another excellent choice when it comes to finding professional help. If your therapist has been treating you for a long time, they may already suspect the condition is present. In either case, they’ll have wide access to eating disorder treatment specialists who can help more effectively. Lastly, you can contact an eating disorder treatment center, whose admissions specialists can give you an assessment.

  1. Talk It Out, Respectfully and Non-Judgmentally

Strong emotions and denials of the diagnosis are not uncommon when it comes to those individuals who have an eating disorder. The person with the eating disorder is probably confused and worried, both about the diagnosis that they just received and knowing that they will need to make changes in their lives. It is important to not only acknowledge those feelings but to validate them too – judgment-free.

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. Provide them support in finding a treatment center or program, and listen to what they have to say. Arguing or making them feel guilty is the wrong path to take – it can push them away from getting help.

  1. Keep Motivation to Get Treatment Up

Even though you don’t want to nag or pressure the individual to get help, it’s important not to stop at one conversation if they are hesitating or avoiding treatment.

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. Many of the excuses will sound reasonable. After all, they may point out their weight is “normal” or they are eating better now while hiding their disordered eating behaviors. 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. They also may claim treatment is too expensive and there is no option for treatment.

Without accusations, keep letting them know about their options and reminding them that you care about their mental and physical health. 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. Find the Right Program

Search out several programs and treatment centers – the first one you talk to may not have the best options for you or your loved one. If you don’t click with the first therapist or treatment center you speak to, don’t panic or let it set you back. Keep searching out other options, especially if you have medical needs or a co-occurring disorder.

In some cases, the individual who has been diagnosed with an eating disorder might realize right away that a particular clinician or eating disorder treatment center is not the right one for them. Or they may not be capable of accommodating all their needs.

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, and make efforts to assist if the individual has stalled.

  1. Get a Physical When You Go Into Treatment

Even if the individual’s primary care physician is the professional that provided the eating disorder diagnosis, a second opinion or new exam by the treatment center’s doctors is recommended. To create an appropriate treatment plan, a physical looking for eating disorder-specific criteria is necessary. 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 at the same time or before treatment begins in earnest.

  1. Motivation Comes From Hope for a Better Future

Gaining and keeping the motivation to get help for eating disorders is sometimes one of the most difficult challenges that family and friends must overcome.

One time-tested method of maintaining motivation for getting treatment for their eating disorder also is to help them visualize their life once they’ve become recovered. Their body will feel better; they won’t be cold all the time, for example, or the aches and pains of excessive exercise will be a thing of the past. They’ll be able to enjoy mealtimes and socializing when food is involved again.

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.

  1. Look at All Your Options

As we discussed, the past decades have brought a lot more awareness and information about eating disorders. This means that treatment options for eating disorders have changed as well. Today, most eating disorder facilities offer both residential (inpatient) and day treatment (outpatient) options, with a variety of levels of care suited for each individual. In day treatment programs, for example, treatment is further divided into options such as partial hospitalization, day treatment, and supervised living, which can accommodate many different cases.

Although the person receiving treatment may have specific ideas about their ideal treatment program, they should work closely with the physicians and admissions staff at their chosen treatment center to make appropriate choices. After a thorough exam and interview, the clinical team makes its recommendation for the best continuum of care to apply.

There are many factors that play into the decision to recommend either residential or day treatment programs. For instance, the length of the eating disorder and the severity of disordered eating behaviors will indicate whether the individual needs 24/7 supervision or if a less intensive program is acceptable. Determining the impact that the behaviors and thoughts surrounding food have on the person is also taken into consideration when determining residential and outpatient treatment.

Generally speaking, outpatient or day treatment is the most flexible form of eating disorder treatment, in which the individual does not live at the facility during treatment and can maintain work or school schedules. A typical program might meet 3 times per week; it’s more structured than simple meetings with a therapist and can provide those individuals who need it with more support while still enabling them to go home to their own bed at night.

  1. Treat Co-Occurring Disorders as Well as the Eating Disorder

More often than not, people with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or others also have a co-occurring mental health condition (or even more than one type of eating disorder). While sometimes loved ones, family and friends are not aware of the presence of these other conditions, the psychiatrists and psychologists at the treatment center will be able to ascertain their presence.

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. As an example, depression can fuel binge eating episodes (since they release dopamine into the brain, alleviating the depression), which then trigger further depression, and so on in an unending cycle. Conditions such as anxiety, OCD, and PTSD can fuel similar cycles, intertwined with eating disorders.

Eating disorder treatment facilities, for this reason, are almost always equipped to treat these mental health conditions in conjunction with the primary goal of treating the eating disorder. Sometimes, as with the case of prolonged addiction, may require special considerations, so make sure your program is equipped to handle them.

Get Help Sooner Rather Than Later

Clementine provides a range of different eating disorder treatment programs to meet the needs of adolescents who are struggling with an eating disorder. Because providing individuals with continuous and comprehensive care is an important aspect of recovery, we offer both outpatient treatment options and residential facilities. Our home-like and comfortable 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 Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

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.