Treatment for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are psychiatric illnesses that affect more than 10 million children, adolescents and adults, most of whom are between the ages of 12 and 35. These are not just about weight - they are ways for people to cope with underlying emotional issues. The recovery process, therefore, involves much more than treatment for the physical illness.

Through the RWJBarnabas Health Behavioral Health Network serving New Jersey, we are pleased to offer stigma-free treatment to anyone in need, especially those suffering from the effects of eating disorders.

These disabling and often long-term illnesses typically result in depression, shame, and isolation. They disrupt families, interrupt schooling, damage careers, destroy relationships, and can even bring about sometimes deadly medical complications.

However, with proper treatment, individuals living with eating disorders can develop appropriate inner resources and look forward to once again living normal, productive and happy lives.

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Offering 24-Hour Access to Consultative Services & Mental Health Treatment

At RWJBarnabas Health, we are pleased to provide stigma-free eating disorder treatment in New Jersey for anyone suffering from this often-disabling illness. Our nationally recognized Eating Disorders Program is staffed by a team of multidisciplinary experts who approach patients with respect and dignity.

The goal of our board-certified psychiatrists and medical team is to address the biological, psychiatric, and social issues related to a patient’s eating disorder, a type of mental illness, while treating any co-occurring mental illnesses.

It’s important to note that eating disorders are not just mentally distressing. While they are mentally distressing, an eating disorder can cause serious physical harm, as well. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

What Is an Eating Disorder?

While each type of eating disorder has unique symptoms, the overriding similarity is that the individual has disturbed eating behaviors, often in the form of severely limiting food intake or excessively overeating. These patterns are often triggered by negative self-esteem concerning body shape or appearance, but eating disorders are much more complicated than just the individual’s relationship with food.

Having an eating disorder is not caused by a lack of willpower or weak character, but rather; eating disorders are treatable mental illnesses that require the help of trained medical professionals to recover.

It’s important to note that individuals of any size and weight can have an eating disorder, and even someone who is overweight can have an eating disorder. More than half of those with bulimia are of normal weight or overweight, and those with binge eating disorder are almost exclusively overweight or obese.

Two of the most common eating disorders, among many others, are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia Nervosa

Perhaps the most well-known eating disorder, anorexia nervosa (or simply anorexia), involves self-starvation with an intense fear of weight gain and severe calorie restriction in a constant effort to continue losing weight.

Many anorexic individuals don’t only restrict calories; they also exercise obsessively to burn off calories. When they do eat, they often have bizarre rituals such as arranging and rearranging food on their plates, possibly as a way to distract their meal companions that they aren’t just ignoring their food.

Many anorexic individuals suffer from malnutrition from the lack of calories their bodies desperately need to carry out even the most basic biological functions, and this causes a whole host of physical troubles. An anorexic person may suffer low heart rate and blood pressure, which puts them at risk for heart failure. They may also lose muscle mass, fatigue, severe dehydration, and more. Any of these symptoms can prove fatal, without treatment.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is another common eating disorder, but while the individual may often severely restricting calories, they also go through episodes of bingeing and purging. This means the bulimic individual overeats, sometimes tens of thousands of calories in just one sitting, and then self-inflicts vomiting and/or takes laxatives or diuretics to prevent weight gain.

Bulimics often feel a loss of control about their eating habits and feel intense shame. Often, they hide food and empty food wrappers, and they will always go to the toilet shortly after eating to purge. Some bulimics even hoard their own bags of vomit by stashing it away to hide the evidence of their purging. Health consequences can be severe, including irregular heartbeat, tooth decay from the stomach acids in vomit, frequent constipation, and esophageal swelling or rupture.

How RWJBarnabas Health Can Help You Recover from an Eating Disorder

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, know that you aren’t alone and you don’t have to face the from the depression, shame, and isolation alone. The first step is to admit to having an eating disorder, which can take a long time to accept, even after loved ones recommend eating disorder treatment and have provided clear suggestions that your eating habits are not normal nor healthy.

Effective treatment for eating disorders involves a combination of psychotherapy and medical attention of the patient’s dietary needs and overall health. Patients may need inpatient, residential, partial hospital treatment, or intensive outpatient therapy, depending on how dire their case is and the patient’s preferences desires.

Patients who have a life-threatening eating disorder will require continuous monitoring and medical supervision in an inpatient setting at our hospital. Signs that a patient’s life is at risk from an eating disorder include unstable vitals (such as low blood pressure or pulse), the risk for suicide, or the patient has additional physical medical problems like diabetes that may cause further issues.

Eating Disorder Services

We are proud to offer a nationally recognized Eating Disorders Program, located at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, which offers a multidisciplinary team approach to address the biological, psychiatric, psychological, and social issues related to these diseases. Our comprehensive services include:

  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Medication management and education
  • Nutritional education
  • Nursing education
  • Self-helping groups
  • Occupational therapy
  • Recreational therapy
  • Specialized sessions on topics such as body image, spirituality, and women’s issues

Recovery from an Eating Disorder Is Possible

You don’t have to suffer from the overwhelming burden of an eating disorder for life. While many afflicted with eating disorders never seek treatment, it’s possible to recover from an eating disorder and resume living a normal, healthy life with our comprehensive care at RWJBarnabas Health.

If you or a loved one are dealing with the effects of an eating disorder, please do not hesitate to call our Access Center, offering 24-hour consultative services regarding mental health treatment. Just call 1-800-300-0628 and learn about our available care and treatment near you.