Struggling with an eating disorder (ED) is so much more than having difficulty consuming food. Disordered eating and eating disorders are complex and multi-faceted, impacting an individual physically, mentally and emotionally. Given this, treatment for eating disorders requires a multidisciplinary approach – meaning a wide spectrum of eating disorder specialists to address each area affected by an eating disorder.
What is a multidisciplinary approach in eating disorder treatment?
The gold standard for treatment of an eating disorder is to have a full team of eating disorder specialists which often includes: A medical provider, psychotherapist, psychiatrist & dietitian.
In various cases, there may be even more providers that can help treat specific needs of an individual suffering from an ED such as an occupational therapist, speech language pathologist, or other medical specialists including a gastroenterologist, endocrinologist, or gynecologist. In addition to providers, additional services such as meal support, groups or the Eating Disorder PATH may be appropriate recommendations that compliment the care one is receiving from an eating disorder specialist.
Given the potential feelings of overwhelm and anxiety around opening up to any provider around an eating disorder, it can feel even more challenging to think of having an entire team be in the know. Below we’ll further discuss the benefits of each member of the treatment team and the importance they all have for recovery.
Eating Disorder Specialists Review:
The Medical Provider or Primary Care Physician (PCP)
Medical providers are an instrumental part of the treatment team with given the medical complications that commonly occur as a result of an eating disorder including cardiac arrhythmias, electrolyte abnormalities & gastrointestinal problems.
The medical provider is responsible for frequent monitoring to ensure medical stability which may include ordering lab work, weight & vital checks and/or referrals to other specialists as needed. Additionally, the medical provider plays the important role of prescribing certain medications that may be needed throughout the process of recovery.
A psychotherapist’s role on the treatment team is crucial to the process of ED recovery. Eating disorders have a strong psychological component impacting the way one perceives their environment especially in the context of food & body. Currently, the treatment for EDs is rooted in therapeutic approaches that vary based on the provider’s speciality.
Some of these approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
Using different therapeutic modalities, psychotherapists will work with client’s to build skills to understand & work through challenges the ED presents.
Different types of providers deliver psychotherapy though may have different titles such as clinical psychologists (PhD, PsyD), social workers (LICSW, LSW), or master’s level mental health counselors (LMHC, LPC, LMFT).
Those diagnosed with an eating disorder often have additional co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression, or OCD. A psychiatrist is an important member of the treatment team when/if other co-occurring diagnoses exist to help identify & prescribe appropriate psychiatric medications.
dietitian (RD, LDN)
Nutrition rehabilitation is a crucial step in the process of recovery. On the treatment team the dietitian is responsible for identifying & correcting nutritional deficiencies as a result of malnutrition. Dietitian’s role includes assessing the nutritional needs of an individual, increasing a balanced intake, supporting the normalization of eating patterns & decreasing eating disorder behaviors.
Eating disorder specialist summary
As previously discussed, eating disorders are complex and require a wide range of treatment to fully address all of the concerns associated with EDs. A team of eating disorder specialists allows for each provider to focus on their expertise to provide the best possible care.
With a full treatment team in place, communication between team members will allow for better insight into the best approaches to treat an individual's concerns.
Additionally, having a treatment team with further experience & knowledge in the treatment of EDs will increase the support needed to challenge difficult eating disorder thoughts and emotions by reassuring the need for care from all angles.
While it may feel intimidating to think of building an entire treatment team, especially in the beginning stages, know that the process of recovery takes time and resources that don’t happen overnight. If you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, review our Parent and Caregiver Jumpstart to Recovery or the Eating Disorder PATH services. Or schedule a Q&A call or initial appointment with one of our dietitian’s who can help start the process with you.