The biggest challenge in treating anorexia nervosa is helping the person recognize that he or she has an illness. Most people with anorexia deny that they have an eating disorder. People often enter treatment only when their condition is serious.
Goals of treatment are to restore normal body weight and eating habits. A weight gain of 1 to 3 pounds per week is considered a safe goal.
Different programs have been designed to treat anorexia. Sometimes the person can gain weight by:
- Increasing social activity
- Reducing the amount of physical activity
- Using schedules for eating
Many patients start with a short hospital stay and follow-up with a day treatment program.
A longer hospital stay may be needed if:
- The person has lost a lot of weight (being below 70% of their ideal body weight for their age and height). For severe and life-threatening malnutrition, the person may need to be fed through a vein or stomach tube.
- Weight loss continues, even with treatment
- Medical complications, such as heart problems, confusion, or low potassium levels develop
- The person has severe depression or thinks about committing suicide
Care providers who are usually involved in these programs include:
- Nurse practitioners
- Physician assistants
- Mental health care providers
Treatment is often very difficult. Patients and their families must work hard. Many therapies may be tried until the patient overcomes this disorder.
Patients may drop out of programs if they have unrealistic hopes of being "cured" with therapy alone.
Different kinds of talk therapy are used to treat people with anorexia:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (a type of talk therapy), group therapy, and family therapy have all been successful.
- Goal of therapy is to change patients' thoughts or behavior to encourage them to eat in a healthier way. This kind of therapy is more useful for treating younger patients who have not had anorexia for a long time.
- If the patient is young, therapy may involve the whole family. The family is seen as a part of the solution, instead of the cause of the eating disorder.
- Support groups may also be a part of treatment. In support groups, patients and families meet and share what they have been through.
Medicines such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers may help some anorexic patients when given as part of a complete treatment program. These medicines can help treat depression or anxiety. Although medicines may help, none has been proven to decrease the desire to lose weight.