Sisters Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel are licensed clinical social workers who specialize in the treatment of eating disorders. Together, they wrote The Diet Survivor's Handbook and operate DietSurvivors.com.
Treating Eating Disorders
Judith Matz (JM): There are a variety of treatment options available, depending on the severity of symptoms. These include outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, and residential treatment programs. Treatment modalities include individual therapy, group therapy, and often art therapy or psycho-educational groups. Therapy focuses on both the underlying issues and on symptom management.
The involvement of a physician, psychiatrist and dietician are an important part of the treatment team because the eating disorder sufferer's health must be closely monitored.
Seek Help for Eating Disorders
LTK: What are the consequences of failing to seek the necessary eating disorder treatment?
Ellen Frankel (EF): Eating disorders have the highest fatality rate of any psychiatric illness. Recovery is possible, but early detection and early treatment is extremely important.
People struggling with anorexia nervosa face malnourishment. Self-starvation can affect most organ systems. Potentially fatal consequences include: irregular heartbeat, cardiac arrest, kidney damage, and renal failure. Anorexia can also cause changes in brain structure and osteoporosis. People struggling with bulimia may face electrolyte imbalance, severe dehydration, and cardiac problems. Purging through vomiting can lead to tearing of the esophagus, rupture of the stomach, and life-threatening irregularities of the heart.
It is crucial to have a physician who is knowledgeable in the treatment of eating disorders as part of the treatment team.
Supporting a Loved One
LTK: If my loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, how can I help?
JM: First, it is important to remember that the eating disorder has meaning and is an attempt to convey an internal struggle. When confronting your loved one, it is best to speak about your own experience rather than making judgments about her behavior. "I" statements opens up conversation. Using "you" statements puts the person on the defensive where no forward movement can occur.
Stay away from statements such as "You're too skinny," or "You need help." Instead, use "I" statements to voice your concerns. For example, "I have seen you skipping meals and losing weight. I'm concerned about your health. Let's get some help." Or, "I have heard you vomiting in the bathroom after meals, and I'm worried that you are in real danger. Let's make an appointment with a therapist and a doctor to talk."
Don't focus on eating and weight. If she is under medical care and working with a therapist, these practitioners will address these issues and monitor her safety. The person struggling with an eating disorder needs people in her world to respond to her as a person, rather than focusing on her symptomatic behavior.
Get help and support for yourself. The person struggling with an eating disorder needs treatment to help her through her recovery. However, the family and friends of a loved one with an eating disorder need support as well. Most eating disorder programs offer support groups for family and friends of loved ones with eating disorders, and these groups can be invaluable in the recovery process. Also, family and loved ones can help the person struggling by modeling healthy behaviors regarding food and weight issues. Don't diet yourself or encourage others to diet. Practice speaking positively about your own body.
Although the recovery process can be difficult for all involved, it is important to remember that recovery is possible. Many eating disorder programs offer to let speakers who have recovered from an eating disorder (and often their loved ones, as well) share their experiences and offer inspiration and hope along the road to recovery.
LTK: How can The Diet Survivor's Handbook help someone who is suffering from an eating disorder?
EF: The Diet Survivor's Handbook can help prevent eating disorders by encouraging quitting dieting behavior, which is a major contributing factor to the development of an eating disorder. It also helps those struggling with eating disorders by teaching the concepts of attuned eating.
By helping readers learn how to identify when they are hungry, what they are hungry for - without judging the food as "good" or "bad" - and by learning to stop eating when they are full, they are able to normalize their relationship with food. The process of ending diets and beginning an attuned way of eating leads to the development of a happy and healthy relationship to food, their bodies and themselves. Through learning to listen to their bodies' needs, those struggling with an eating disorder are in a better position to satisfy those needs.
As they learn that their needs can be satisfied through attuned eating, this profound learning has a rippling affect. They are able to expand the concepts of attuned eating to a life of attuned living. By nourishing both the body and the soul, they are moving down the road of recovery.
Take Control of the Situation
For people living with an eating disorder, getting appropriate treatment can help the individiual regain control of his or her life. People who are able to stop their destructive relationship with food willl be able to reclaim their self-esteem, develop a stronger body image, and move toward a philosophy of self acceptance.