It's Time to Treat Eating Disorders as Both Psychological and Physical Diseases

What makes eating disorders unique in the scope of psychiatric illness is the fundamental medical nature of treatment. As such, the complete approach to recovery needs to include a medical sensibility as well as psychological one. 

However, artificially separating the psychological and physical tends to limit the effectiveness of care. The best plan must incorporate and weave together these two parts of eating disorder for truly comprehensive care. 

The clinical world tracks eating disorder providers into specialities: food, therapy and medical. Each provider is a crucial member of the treatment team but usually focuses their specific treatment on only one component of recovery. However, the individual's experience is a cohesive one, and separating out the different aspects of an eating disorder doesn't reflect the reality of having one. 

This problem begs for creativity on the part of the treatment team, something always called for in eating disorder treatment. The wisest clinicians have gleaned enough knowledge and experience to know that blending information from other parts of recovery, even when it's not one's specialty, makes for more complete care and an increased chance for recovery. 

For the therapist, this means referring regularly to the medical complications from an eating disorder and heeding the severity of the illness. For the physician, respecting the power of the eating disorder thought process rather than implying recovery is the same as willpower. For the nutritionist, recognizing food and nutrition education isn't really the cornerstone to treating someone with an eating disorder: the treatment is really food therapy. 

Each clinician may have a specialty; however, the team overall must focus on the psychological and physical components of an eating disorder as well. Each appointment is a way to call into question the dominant eating disorder thoughts and point out the fallacy of continuing the symptoms. A cohesive approach of each member of the team can acknowledge the realities of recovery and help the patient recognize how physical and psychological impairment limits their lives.

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