What Approaches Are Effective for Managing the Therapeutic Needs of Patients With Eating Disorders?


    What Approaches Are Effective for Managing the Therapeutic Needs of Patients With Eating Disorders?

    In our latest exploration of patient care, we've gathered insights from four esteemed professionals, including psychologists and a psychiatrist, on managing the therapeutic needs of individuals with eating disorders. From involving family in the treatment process to combining cognitive-behavioral therapy with nutritional counseling, these experts share one significant strategy they've employed and the outcomes they've observed.

    • Involve Family in Treatment Process
    • Prescribe Regular Eating Patterns
    • Create a Multidisciplinary Treatment Plan
    • Combine CBT with Nutritional Counseling

    Involve Family in Treatment Process

    I involve family members and other support systems in the eating disorder treatment process because it is essential for their progress. Many times, family members may criticize, shame, or not understand how to support the patient. I provide education to loved ones to help them understand the disorder and the difficult treatment. This process can improve communication, understand unhealthy family dynamics, and provide a safe and supportive environment for both the patient and their family members. Patients are more likely to continue with treatment if they have a loving and supportive family throughout the process. By involving those close to the patient, it will enhance the effectiveness of treatment, strengthen the patient’s support network, and improve their overall quality of life.

    Nick Bach
    Nick BachOwner and Psychologist, Grace Psychological Services, LLC

    Prescribe Regular Eating Patterns

    Binge-eating is a common symptom across eating disorders and is often accompanied by panic, disgust, and a realistic fear of weight gain. Wanting to stop bingeing is among the top reasons people initiate eating disorder treatment. Happily, with just a few steps, we can substantially reduce—if not fully eliminate—binge episodes within the first month of treatment.

    First, patients are asked to write down, throughout the day, when and what they're eating. When I review their findings, I almost invariably see a pattern where they've gone long periods without food. Some people might only eat once or twice a day with the hopes of reducing their daily calories and losing weight. What they probably don't realize is that undereating dramatically increases the risk of binge eating.

    We can break this restrict-binge cycle by prescribing a regular pattern of eating. By eating every 3-4 hours, the person never gets to the point of feeling so hungry that they lose control over what and how much they eat.

    It's an incredibly effective intervention, increases treatment buy-in, and instills hope that other aspects of the eating disorder can be overcome as well.

    Andrea Vazzana, Ph.D.
    Andrea Vazzana, Ph.D.Clinical Psychologist, NYU Langone Health

    Create a Multidisciplinary Treatment Plan

    Generally, I first attempt to understand what goals the patient has: weight restoration, weight loss, fewer obsessions with body image or food, etc. Then we devise a treatment plan, which generally includes a treatment team consisting of psychiatry, primary care, nutritional support, and therapy. I worked with a patient who declined to go to formal eating disorder treatment. Her BMI had been between 12-13 for over 30 years. Her treatment goals were to stabilize her anxiety and depression and maximize her functioning at work, in relationships, etc. I focused on keeping her psychiatric medications stable without frequent changes; her therapist focused on eating disorder issues, emotional regulation, and improving relationships; and her primary care physician focused on managing her physical health, including sequelae from her lifetime eating disorder. Her outcome included multiple physical sequelae of her long-term eating disorder and low BMI, as well as chronic, low-level anxiety, depression, and insomnia. She was able to function in a demanding job, sustain a few friendships, and actively participate in her treatment, even though she never attended any higher level of care.

    Allison HoltNational Medical Director, Psychiatrist, Talkiatry

    Combine CBT with Nutritional Counseling

    One effective approach I've employed with a patient struggling with an eating disorder is a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques and nutritional counseling. Through CBT, we worked on identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs surrounding food, body image, and self-esteem. Additionally, nutritional counseling focused on establishing a balanced and healthy relationship with food while addressing any underlying nutritional deficiencies. Over time, the patient showed significant improvements in their mindset towards food, experienced fewer disordered eating behaviors, and reported higher levels of self-esteem and overall well-being. This integrated approach helped the patient develop healthier coping mechanisms and a more positive relationship with food and their body.

    Zoe Fragou
    Zoe FragouOrganizational Psychologist, Zoe Fragou