Eating Disorder Treatment: Why Early Intervention is Crucial

The Benefits of Early Intervention in Eating Disorders

At some point, everyone has heard the saying, “The sooner, the better.” It’s a saying that easily applies to medicine. In healthcare, it’s generally true that diagnosing and treating a disease early improves outcomes and lessens negative consequences. By catching a medical or psychiatric issue early on and starting treatment as soon as possible, individuals may be able to prevent their illness from worsening and start recovery earlier (1).

How Can Early Intervention in Eating Disorders Help?

Early intervention in eating disorders is important for many reasons. The longer an eating disorder continues without treatment, the higher the risk for severe physical, emotional, and psychological consequences. The early stages of an eating disorder are a critical period for stepping in and preventing complications. The longer the illness continues, the less it responds to treatment, and chances of full recovery become less likely. The following are a few reasons why early intervention is helpful:
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Early intervention can be life-saving.
  • The earlier an eating disorder is identified and addressed, the better the chances of a long-lasting, full recovery.
  • Early intervention can prevent psychological consequences, such as depression and anxiety, which often co-occur with eating disorders.
  • Early intervention can prevent physical complications like severe malnutrition and organ failure (2).
  • Early intervention gives individuals a better chance of breaking the habits they may have started developing around food. Disrupting eating disorder behaviors is easier when they haven’t become long-standing habits.

What Is Early Intervention in Eating Disorders?

Early eating disorder intervention includes recognizing behaviors or symptoms associated with disordered eating and taking action right away. Taking action means getting help from a healthcare professional who can provide specialized treatment for eating disorders. Treatment may require different levels of care, such as intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, residential, or inpatient hospitalization. But hopefully, with early action, healthcare professionals and individuals suffering from eating disorders can work together to prevent hospitalization. Key factors in early intervention, whether it is bulimia or anorexia intervention or any disordered eating intervention, are education and screening. Education gets the word out and raises awareness about eating disorders. This process allows people to learn about how serious eating disorders are and to become knowledgeable about the warning signs. Screening helps identify people who may be at risk for or already have eating disorders and provides them with helpful resources and the support they need to get help (2). Sometimes, just knowing that others are trying to raise awareness helps individuals suffering from eating disorders feel less misunderstood and may give them the confidence to reach out for help.

How Can Education Professionals Help?

Most eating disorders begin during adolescence and young adulthood. Educators within the school community are in the perfect position to raise awareness and help with early intervention of eating disorders. This strategy goes for all levels of schooling, from elementary school to college. In the school environment, educators spend significant amounts of time with their students on a weekly basis. They can often pick up on early signs of an eating disorder or concerning changes in behavior when they first occur. Educators are also in a position to intervene and communicate any concerns with students and their families (2). Athletics coaches should also be knowledgeable about signs and symptoms since athletes can suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia and orthorexia. Orthorexia is an obsession with healthy eating and often involves restricting foods, making many of its symptoms and consequences similar to anorexia (3).

How Can Healthcare Professionals Help?

Healthcare professionals are the people who will diagnose and provide treatment for eating disorders. Professionals trained in eating disorders may include psychiatrists, therapists, and dietitians. Usually, the team will work together to develop an appropriate treatment plan for each patient. Other healthcare professionals, such as general practitioners, pediatricians, and school nurses, should make referrals to eating disorder specialists as early as possible if they think an individual is at risk or suffering from an eating disorder. There is no need to wait and see if the situation gets worse. Quick access to the appropriate care will significantly improve an individual’s outcomes and recovery (1).

How Can Family and Friends Help?

Family and friends play a significant role in early intervention. They may be the first to notice red flags indicating their loved one has an eating disorder or is at risk for one. Family and friends are often the first to communicate their concerns about eating disorders to their loved ones and provide encouragement to seek treatment. They can also be the support system for their loved ones throughout the treatment and recovery process. At Aster Springs, our team of eating disorder specialists can provide effective treatment tailored to your individual needs regardless of where you are in your eating disorder journey. If you think you or your loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder, reach out today by calling 804-415-7603 or using our contact form to find out how the team at Aster Springs can help.

References

  1. Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2019, May). Position statement on early intervention for eating disorders. https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/docs/default-source/improving-care/better-mh-policy/position-statements/ps03_19.pdf?sfvrsn=b1283556_2
  2. Jones, M. and Brown, T. (2022). Why Early Intervention for Eating Disorders is Essential. National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/why-early-intervention-eating-disorders-essential
  3. National Eating Disorders Association. (2022). Orthorexia. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/orthorexia
Author bio: Kate Delaney Chen, BSN, RN-BC is a healthcare writer and registered nurse with over 17 years of bedside experience. She specializes in Psychiatric Nursing and Nephrology and currently works at a nationally recognized Inpatient Eating Disorders Program.

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