Eating disorders are well-known but often misunderstood, and that means it can be difficult to decide how to treat them. In many cases, especially for life-threatening eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, residential or residential programs are the right call. On the other hand, in some cases, it’s not necessary.

For people that have an eating disorder but also have to continue working, studying, or caring for their families, for example, a day treatment center could be a much better choice. In situations where someone has an eating disorder that isn’t life-threatening but still holding them back, like a less-severe case of binge eating disorder or a growing case of orthorexia nervosa, a regularly scheduled day treatment option for therapy and other help may be enough.

What Is Orthorexia Nervosa?

A relatively unknown eating disorder, orthorexia nervosa is a pattern of disordered behavior in which a person becomes obsessed with “healthy” eating. Many people, including medical professionals, still fail to recognize this disorder with the same seriousness that they afford anorexia or bulimia. In fact, orthorexia nervosa is still not listed on the DSM-V (the official register of mental health disorders). People with orthorexia nervosa typically greatly restrict the types if not the amounts of food they eat and become compulsive in their quest to only eat certain ingredients and preparations. Other orthorexia nervosa symptoms include:

  • Becoming obsessed with the effects of certain food types such as asthma, allergic reactions, diabetes, etc. although there has been no diagnosis of these
  • Developing elaborate food preparation rituals (such as excessive washing or cutting into only specific shapes and sizes) and refusing to eat unless the food has been prepared that way
  • Eliminating certain types of food such as fat or carbohydrate, even though that can be part of a balanced diet
  • Hesitating or refusing to eat food that the individual hasn’t prepared personally
  • Feelings of guilt and shame if the individual hasn’t prepared the food themselves or if they have even small portions of the “forbidden” ingredients
  • Separating from loved ones who don’t share the same restrictions
  • Co-occurring depression or anxiety

Here’s what to consider for clients who are looking at choosing day treatment programs for the treatment of orthorexia nervosa, to decide if those kinds of programs are going to give them what they need. Because orthorexia usually doesn’t come with the dangerous side effects of other eating disorders, at least at first, a steady schedule of psychotherapy sessions and activities may be sufficient to start the healing process without unduly disrupting daily life. Which kind of treatment is best for orthorexia nervosa?

The Difference Between Day Treatment and Residential Services

Many programs for eating disorders are residential, which means that the client lives at the facility for a fixed period, usually at least 30 days. This offers intensive treatment but requires a large commitment in terms of time and expenses. With day treatment programs the client comes to the facility for daily sessions but returns home at night. During that time they may go to different things, such as individual therapy, group therapy, and more.

These day treatment programs are for less severe cases and for those people who can’t take a minimum 30 days off to enter a full-time residential facility. It’s essential to note that even though orthorexia nervosa is not listed on the DSM-V, it’s not a “lesser” disorder and still requires treatment. However, orthorexia nervosa day treatment is a good option for people who aren’t at medical risk. Most treatments for orthorexia are various forms of psychotherapy, which can be dispensed in regular sessions.

A common misconception is that the quality of services is different between day treatment and residential treatment, but that’s not necessarily the case. While certain aspects of the experience will be different, day treatment is often more appropriate for the level of care the individual needs. In many cases, the client gets to decide which of the options they want to choose. With a more limited time to partake in therapy sessions, day treatment can help someone focus on the treatment they need.

What Are the Advantages of a Day Treatment Program?

One of the common causing factors of all eating disorders is a tendency towards perfectionism, which is especially the case with orthorexia nervosa. The perfectionist tendencies also occur in people with stressful or intense careers. For many people who are struggling with obsessive thoughts about food, they simply cannot take a month off for full-time treatment. Day treatment allows for self-healing on a regular schedule without disrupting a career or, as another common example, an education. Day treatment sessions for eating disorders can be seen the same way as a college student or professional seeing a therapist.

Cost is another factor in choosing day treatment over residential treatment. While the first consideration for any course of treatment should be choosing an appropriate level of care, day treatment programs tend to be less expensive. If the program is a high enough level of service for them and is more affordable, it might be a better option. It’s better to have limited treatment than none at all. Whether a day program is the right choice for treatment will depend on the individual, and there can be many reasons why a client may choose one option over the other one for their recovery.

You Can Always Move on to a Higher Level of Care

There are several program types for day treatment, and they are taking continual strides toward inclusivity. Oliver-Pyatt Centers, we treat adults of all ages, ethnicities, and genders, with special care shown for transgender clients – a population that has higher rates of eating disorders than the rest of the population. But whether day treatment programs will provide a high enough level of care for an individual client will depend on what that client specifically needs and the quality of the program. If the day program isn’t doing enough to help, there are a couple of options to consider. First, an increased frequency of therapy sessions or longer sessions may be a workable solution.

However, if increasing the number of sessions doesn’t help, or the symptoms of orthorexia nervosa become more intense, moving to residential eating disorder treatment is a viable option. While this requires temporarily leaving their career or education on pause, the individual’s health must take precedence. In such a situation, a move to a higher level of care becomes essential.

Day Programs Use Many of the Same Techniques

As mentioned before, orthorexia nervosa generally responds well to counseling and talk therapy, which makes day treatment equal in the quality of not quantity of sessions. The same techniques are used both in day treatment and residential programs.

At a daily therapy program, there are opportunities to go beyond eating disorders and experience alternative treatment and experiential therapies as well. That can help them become fully recovered, but it can also give them the opportunity to address other aspects of their life where they might like things to be different or better in some way.

Focus on the Skills Learned During Treatment

There will be several skills learned during treatment, and it’s important that the client practice those skills each day so they can use them to have a strong recovery. Once they’re fully recovered they’ll still want to use their skills to reduce any chance of relapse and help them have a joyful, enjoyable life doing all the things they want to do. There are plenty of ways to practice skills and a client who does that will have a higher chance of success because they’ll have those skills at the ready if they ever need them.

Additionally, it’s important to use the skills that are learned in recovery for other aspects of life. There are always places where good coping skills can be employed, and clients who have those are going to feel more secure in their fully recovered wholeness than clients who haven’t practiced skill-building. But the ability to focus on and learn the skills offered during treatment is there for every client, so they can move toward a life that’s what they want, and the good life that they deserve and desire. The right treatment program will go a long way toward that.

The Right Treatment Center Makes a Difference

When choosing between options for orthorexia nervosa treatment, it’s essential to remember that not every facility is made the same They have different quality levels, different programs, different ratings, and different options. For day treatment options, there will often be a requirement about the distance a person can travel. While sometimes traveling a little farther for a program is well worth the extra time, it might be best to find a day treatment center near you. In short, the right treatment center will make a difference in the quality of the treatment and the value the client gets from that treatment

That center may not be the same one that works for others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good choice. The right choice is the one that works for the client and the one that’s going to help them become fully recovered. In some cases, the program at one center may seem ideal but may not actually be the best choice, while the program at another center could be perfect. The most important thing for any client is that they find the day program that’s right for them, and that will give them the tools they need for a successful recovery.

Residential or Day Treatment, Your Success Is the Counselor’s Goal

Whether it’s a day option or a residential program, the therapists and staff at an eating disorder recovery center want to see their clients be successful. They’ll do their best to provide the help these clients need, and they’ll work to give them all the tools they need so they can have a good life. Clients can benefit from working with their therapists and others at the facility so they can get the help they need. Then they can become fully recovered and move on with the enjoyment of their life. There’s so much to do and explore that every client should have that chance.

Overall, a day program can be extremely helpful when it comes to helping anyone recover from an eating disorder. While different than a residential program, it can have the same degree of value. It’s not for every client, but will work well for many of them when they want or need treatment for an eating disorder. Clients who aren’t able to complete a residential program for many reasons can see benefits, as can clients who don’t need as intense of a level of treatment. It’s worth exploring for these types of clients, to help them become fully recovered.

Carrie Hunnicutt

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.

Oliver-Pyatt Centers is grounded in mindfulness and the belief that each person has the capacity for a mindful relationship with food and their body. Present in every aspect of our program, this philosophy encompasses nutrition and eating, as well as movement, with an emphasis on becoming free from negative habits, behaviors and rigidity. We work from a place of empathy and wisdom, using a medically grounded, psychologically gentle approach.

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Oliver-Pyatt Centers

6100 SW 76th Street
Miami, Florida 33143

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