Understanding the Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa and the Most Effective Treatment Options

With the ability to spot the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa disorder, family members can help their loved ones acquire the treatment they need to become recovered. Without treatment, this eating disorder can progress and cause serious health complications. Early intervention can protect the health and well being of individuals with eating disorders, so it is important to understand how to detect the development of this condition and others like it.

Each person experiences eating disorder symptoms differently. Even so, a close look at the outwardly visible signs and medically detectable symptoms can help family members see when their loved ones may need help. This guide can help families get started in learning what they need to know.

Common Signs of Anorexia Nervosa Disorder

The signs of anorexia nervosa disorder are usually directly observable, though many people with eating disorders hide their disordered thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Through mindful observation, it is possible for family members to view the subtle signs to see if their loved one may have an eating disorder.

Individuals with anorexia nervosa tend to follow overly restrictive dietary plans that keep calories at dangerously minimal levels. They may also have an obsessive need to exercise to mitigate the minimal calories they do eat. These behaviors are extremely difficult to hide when living with others. Secretive behavior around food and exercise is a red flag that indicates a need for a discussion about eating disorders and their treatment options.

Other common signs families can look for include:

  • Sudden weight changes
  • New eating habits, including spitting out food
  • Fatigue
  • Damage to tooth enamel
  • Bad breath
  • Facial swelling
  • Cold intolerance
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headaches
  • Poor concentration
  • Anxiety about food and mealtimes

If these signs appear alongside restrictive eating behaviors, or an obsessive need to exercise, help is available at anorexia nervosa treatment centers. In some cases, it may be too difficult for family members to tell if their loved one has an eating disorder. When this happens, it may be possible to get the conversation started with help from a doctor.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa That Indicate an Urgent Need for Treatment

Regular checkups by a doctor can also help reveal when a person has an eating disorder. Doctors can watch for the symptoms of anorexia nervosa to determine when their clients may need help at anorexia nervosa treatment centers. These symptoms are detectable using medical expertise and diagnostic tests, including diagnostic lab work. With a simple blood test, for example, it is possible for doctors to tell if their clients have any symptoms of anorexia nervosa disorder, including anemia, thyroid imbalances or low potassium.

Other symptoms can be detected with an exam and tests, such as:

  • Slow heart rate
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Low BMI
  • Excessive growth of fine hair on the face and body
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Poor kidney function
  • Anemia
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Muscle loss
  • Brittle bones

Doctors can get the conversation started about the need for help at anorexia nervosa treatment centers. Family members can offer the support their loved ones need to make this important decision.

Understanding the Path to Eating Disorder Recovery

Eating disorder recovery can begin through non-judgmental, compassionate care at anorexia nervosa treatment centers. Eating disorder treatment centers have many types and levels of care that allows them to personalize their treatment strategies. The treatments selected for each client are designed to help with their exact symptoms and challenges. Care teams can work with clients to learn of their own personal objectives in recovery and work supportive skill-building strategies into the treatment plan.

With clients’ range of experiences with eating disorders varying so widely, eating disorder therapists must assist in finding the right level of care through each stage of treatment. Many treatment centers offer residential programs and day treatment options along with a number of supportive services to give clients their full support.

Residential Treatment Program Admission After Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosis

In residential eating disorder treatment programs, clients stay in a home-like setting while receiving comprehensive care from a skilled team of professionals. These experts provide medical and psychiatric care while helping clients move through the eating disorder treatment process. Depending on their exact needs, clients meet with dieticians, therapists, doctors and other caregivers once a week or more. All these providers work together to help their clients achieve their recovery goals.

At these immersive treatment programs, the recovery journey follows a personalized level system that allows clients to gradually move toward becoming fully recovered. This system gives clients support in learning the life skills and coping strategies they need for eating disorder recovery. As clients make progress in recovery, therapists assess their readiness to move onto more difficult challenges. They may explore topics surrounding nutrition, meal planning and self-portioning to help clients develop healthy mindsets and habits.

Daily group therapy plays a huge role in the residential eating disorder treatment process. The client’s unique needs will determine the best therapy model to use in the treatment of their eating disorder symptoms. Therapy models used in anorexia nervosa treatment include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Body image therapy
  • Expressive art sessions
  • Interpersonal process
  • Dialectical behavioral skills training

By attending these groups with their peers, clients can gain new perspectives that help shift their mindset to one focused on becoming and remaining recovered.

Day Treatment Services for Improved Eating Disorder Recovery

As clients make progress in building healthy coping skills and beneficial life skills, they can start to make the transition to a day treatment program. Many anorexia nervosa treatment centers have several day treatment program options to ensure they are fully personalizing care to each client’s needs. Some clients may benefit from intensive out client treatment, while others require a bit more support, as is found in partial hospitalization programs.

The increased levels of independence given at day treatment programs help clients practice their skills in real-life situations. As they venture out into the real world, it is possible to strengthen the coping skills and other beneficial practices needed to become fully recovered. The skill-building activities continue to increase in difficulty to prepare clients to cope with a wide range of potentially triggering situations.

While in day treatment programs for anorexia nervosa, clients will receive ample encouragement and support in building connections with their communities. They may have meaningful work opportunities and chances to volunteer at organizations with missions that match their passions. Classes, workshops, and other educational opportunities are offered as well to improve each client’s community connections.

Supervised Living Accommodations for an Easier Transition

For additional support, clients in day treatment programs may need to enroll in a supervised living program. This program helps people with anorexia nervosa practice their essential life skills and coping mechanisms both in and out of the treatment center. As any challenges arise in daily exposure exercises, therapy sessions and other situations, clients have instant access to care from their treatment team. With their care team’s support, they can explore any disordered thoughts and feelings that arise, and then replace them with healthy coping skills.

In supervised living programs, clients can work on building a better relationship with food through regular meal support. Eating disorder therapists will help clients address their symptoms of anorexia nervosa and use healthy coping mechanisms to enact change. As they work toward graduation from the anorexia nervosa treatment centers, clients can learn to be more comfortable with planning balanced meals and setting up reasonable exercise programs. Every step of the way, eating disorder therapists help clients remain accountable for their own journey toward becoming recovered.

Upon reaching their treatment goals, clients can work with their care team to create an aftercare plan. This plan helps clients remain recovered from anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders while navigating the stressors of daily life.

The Importance of Aftercare Upon Graduating from Eating Disorder Treatment

To support clients after an anorexia nervosa diagnosis and treatment program completion, eating disorder treatment specialists use their expertise to identify the resources that will help the most. Clients are set up with care providers outside the treatment center as needed to support their journey in remaining recovered. They may also receive information about therapy groups, educational opportunities and other resources in their area.

Eating disorder treatment centers also offer alumnae services that help their clients remain connected to their care team and peers. These services extend not only to the client but their family members as well. These resources may include webinars, blog posts and newsletter content that provides education on helpful topics, including meal planning and mindfulness. These care centers also offer ongoing therapy groups for alumnae and their families, peers and other members of the anorexia nervosa treatment center community.

Family members can also find extra support in the resource library. These resources are geared toward the challenges that family members face in helping their loved ones acquire treatment and become recovered. Family members may use these resources by going through the private online portal established by the treatment center. With support as needed, family members can respond to the needs of their loved ones and help them acquire the care they need to achieve eating disorder recovery.

How to Acquire Treatment for Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

Whether on their own or with help from a doctor, when family members start to see the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa, they can begin to help their loved ones acquire care. By creating an open dialogue and voicing their concerns, family members can start to motivate their loved one to seek treatment for their eating disorder. Admissions specialists at eating disorder treatment centers can also help people with an anorexia nervosa diagnosis, or suspected diagnosis, understand the benefits of acquiring treatment.

Through compassionate, non-judgmental conversations, people with eating disorders can start to accept the need for treatment and begin the process of acquiring care. With a single call to the treatment center, it is possible to get the ball rolling in obtaining care for the symptoms of anorexia nervosa. Admissions specialists complete a full intake assessment to find the best type of care for the client. This process ensures that clients will end up in residential or day treatment programs as needed to achieve the best outcomes.

The care team then collaborates to create an effective plan for the treatment of anorexia nervosa disorder and any underlying conditions affecting the client. Throughout treatment, clients continue to receive the highest level of care and support in moving toward becoming recovered. Treatment centers continue to care for their clients after graduation by offering access to resources that support their goals of remaining recovered for life.

Although there are many approaches to the treatment of anorexia nervosa, each client will need a personalized plan to overcome their symptoms and unique challenges. With professional support and access to helpful aftercare services, people with anorexia nervosa can become and remain fully recovered.