Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening conditions that require treatment that is on the same level – and sometimes beyond – garden variety substance abuse. There are several subtypes of eating disorders, from bulimia to anorexia and others, and treatments differ to some degree, as will be discussed.
In terms of prevention, early education and interdiction are the keys. Eating disorders almost always begin at a very young age, and unless checked, can lead to a lifetime of problems and misery. Identifying the problem early before it gets out of control is extremely important, as well as tricky, due to the fact that eating disorders can begin at a very young age ( as early as age 5-7), when children are encouraged in developing appropriate eating patterns. There are several cultural factors and influences that often come to light during this period, and they should be examined as they crop up. Asking a child why they eat when they aren’t hungry is an important question, and patterns of eating when one is scared or emotionally upset is another to examine. These inquires can begin at the ages mentioned earlier.
It’s also a good thing to emphasize to children at a young age that teasing due to one’s body size/shape is unacceptable. Another thing to realize is that children intuitively grasp certain concepts instinctively, such as only eating when they are hungry (not starving) as well as stopping the meal when they are full, as opposed to continuing until they are overly-stuffed. You will be surprised at children’s instincts. Physical fitness is crucial to instill in young children, and aside from school activities, extracurricular physical activities and sports can go a long way in preventing eating disorders later in life.
Treatment differs according to nature and severity of eating disorder, and usually more than one treatment alternative is employed. To this end, however, much of eating disorder treatment is based on clinical experience, and one program can differ from another based on success rates and current trends. However, in the early stages of recovery, a physician can be very helpful in choosing a mode of treatment, and the relationship between the doctor and patient is critical, especially due to the highly-personal nature of the disorder.
Some of the more popular methods of treatment are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is essentially industry standard one-on-one therapy, designed to identify and work on core issues. As well as this, depending on the origin of the disorder, family therapy is often employed, as well as behavioral therapy, focusing in getting rid of unwanted patterns and behaviors, generally food-related.
Some medications have proven successful on certain eating disorders. Orlistat is often used in treating obesity. Its primary function is preventing the absorption of fats from the human diet by acting as a lipase inhibitor, thereby reducing caloric intake. It is intended for use in conjunction with a healthcare provider-supervised reduced-calorie diet. Olanzapine is often used in anorexia cases, as it promotes weight gain. Zinc suppiments have also shown to be helpful. Another drug that is being tested with some success is Cortisol.
Nutritional counseling and 12-step based self-help groups are also extremely helpful. Although inpatient care is not always called on in treating eating disorders, it is quite often recommended.