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Is Psychiatric Treatment for Eating Disorders Appropriate?

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Hearing the words “eating disorder” conjures up the image of a person who has a troubled relationship with food and eating, often accompanied by body image distortion and low self-esteem. It might seem that these conditions are stand-alone issues. The reality, though, is that the visible signs of an eating disorder are an outward display of the combination of several mental health issues.

Although eating disorders are psychiatric illnesses in their own right – most are listed in the DSM-V, the standard diagnostic manual for mental illness – they usually come with co-occurring mental health disorders. Other psychiatric illnesses are frequently causative factors in eating disorders, and they can also be worsened by the feelings of guilt or shame that disordered eating behaviors cause. In order to delve into those and find viable solutions, psychiatric treatment for co-occurring disorders is a must.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Often referred to simply as OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder was given its own category in the latest edition of the DSM. It is characterized by obsessions, which are persistent thoughts that recur, are not wanted, and cause distress. As a coping mechanism, the individual tries to counteract, suppress or ignore these thoughts.

In response to an obsession, individuals might also practice repetitive behaviors. Though they are designed to prevent potential distress, these acts aren’t connected to it in a way that can effectively address them. Repetitive and compulsive actions are also very common in people with eating disorders. A prime example of this is the repetitive nature of binge eating sessions in people with binge eating disorder. These repeated behaviors can be treated by cognitive retraining activities such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps individuals recognize that their compulsive actions are unhealthy and replace them with self-understanding.


In addition to lack of motivation, a general sense of sadness, and difficulties sleeping and eating, individuals with depression often feel they aren’t good enough. They can become focused on perfection, including in the ways they act and look. When this isn’t achievable, they might restrict their eating or binge eating. Perfectionism is also a common indicator that someone is at risk of developing an eating disorder, especially in cases of anorexia nervosa.

In some cases, the presence of an eating disorder can lead to depression. It becomes a difficult chicken-or-the-egg situation in which the eating disorder makes the person feel depressed. The individual then engages in disordered behaviors as a maladjusted coping mechanism for those negative feelings. While medication is usually not part of an eating disorder treatment program, it may be useful for those who also have depression.


About two-thirds of people with an eating disorder also have some form of anxiety disorder, such as general anxiety, social anxiety, and prominently, PTSD. For people with both an eating disorder and an anxiety disorder, their anxieties often center around their appearance, eating in front of others, and sometimes about the “purity” or healthiness of the food they’re avoiding.

In many cases, individuals had anxiety before their eating disorder, and just as with depression, anxiety can also be a result of disordered eating behaviors. Normally, anxiety disorders are treated with a variety of talk therapy methods and medications to alleviate anxiety attacks. Eating disorders normally do not respond to psychiatric medication, but a co-occurring anxiety disorder may require them to complete treatment.

Getting Psychiatric Care for Eating Disorders

High-quality psychiatric care at a psychiatric residential facility for eating disorders is a vital part of the healing process. Supportive, focused on getting one back to their healthy self and highly-experienced, professional inpatient eating disorder facilities can make the difference. If you know someone struggling with an eating disorder or other psychiatric disorder, reach out as soon as you can. A full recovery is always possible, and experts are standing by to get you started.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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