Involving the Family Doctor in Eating Disorder Recovery: Is this helpful?

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Contributor: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

When someone in your family is struggling with an eating disorder, it can be helpful to assemble a treatment team of specialized professionals to collaboratively support them in their recovery. Stuart Koman, Ph.D., states that “a multidisciplinary team approach is essential for successful treatment of eating disorders. No one professional has the expertise to fill all of the patient’s medical and psychiatric needs.” [1]

This team could include a nutritionist, therapist, mentor, and/or a doctor. It can be beneficial to include a physician in eating disorder recovery, however there are also some key components to take into consideration when doing so.

The Role of a Physician in Eating Disorder Recovery

The general role of a physician in eating disorder recovery is to supervise and oversee medical complications stemming from the eating disorder, as well as to monitor physical symptoms and vital signs. [2] There are numerous documented health complications that can stem from eating disorders, which why the involvement of a physician in eating disorder recovery is so important.

According to The National Eating Disorder Association, some potential medical complications of eating disorders may include, reduction of bone density, inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus, slow heart rate, gallbladder disease, and electrolyte imbalances that could cause irregular heartbeats or heart failure-leading to death. [3]

The Importance of Including a Physician in a Patients Recovery

Female doctorAs stated above, it can be helpful and sometimes mandatory to include a physician in an individual’s eating disorder recovery. However, there are some important considerations to take into account-specifically when deciding whether to involve the family doctor, or to seek a different physician. An article in the journal, Pediatrics, exemplified this point when the author stated,

“Many general pediatricians do not feel comfortable treating patients with eating disorders and prefer to refer patients with anorexia or bulimia nervosa for care by those with special expertise. A number of pediatricians specializing in adolescent medicine have developed this skill set, with an increasing number involved in the management of eating disorders as part of multidisciplinary teams.”

Many children and adolescents who are struggling with eating disorders can be treated in an outpatient setting by utilizing a treatment team that is often coordinated by a pediatrician. However, some children and adolescents will need a higher level of care. [4]

Therefore, it is important to ask your family doctor whether they have experience in treating eating disorders and if they feel comfortable in being a part of the individual’s eating disorder treatment team. Dr. Craig Endo, a family physician who also has treated patients with eating disorders stated,

“Just ask. If the primary care physician is comfortable co-managing the eating disorder and can function well with the therapist and dietitian, then consider remaining with your physician. The therapeutic relationship already exists. 
If the physician is unfamiliar with eating disorder treatment, he or she can refer to another physician, even if it’s only temporary, to get the patient through the worst of the eating disorder.” [5]

Searching for a Specialized Physician

Doctor VisitIf you decide to search for a more specialized physician, it can be difficult to know where to turn. One article stated, “It’s relatively easy to find therapists and dietitians who identify themselves as working with eating disorders, but physicians don’t tend to distinguish themselves as eating disorder doctors.” [6]

As stated above, you can ask your family doctor for a referral to a doctor who has experience in working with eating disorders. Additionally, asking other members of the treatment team for physician referrals would be another way to find someone who has experience in working with eating disorders.

It is also important that the treatment team agrees with the direction of the treatment plan and is willing to collaborate.

Tamson Overholtzer, a marriage and family therapist, reiterated this point when she discussed the importance of making sure that the physician that she refers to is providing appropriate care. Overholtzer stated, “Making sure my client is seeing their MD regularly, that the right tests are ordered and consistent communication with both the therapist and the dietitian presents a unified message to clients that the disorder is serious and we are working together to help them get better.” [7]

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What role has your family physician played in your eating disorder recovery?


[1]: Koman, S. (n.d.). A Continuum of Care Approach to Eating Disorders. Retrieved from
[2]: Eating Disorder Therapists & Specialists Directory. (n.d.). Retrieved from
[3]: Health Consequences of Eating Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from
[4]: Berger, D., Sanders, D., Rubin, D., (2015). Identifying and Treating Eating Disorders. Pediatrics, 111 (1). Retrieved from
[5]: The Best Doctor for Eating Disorder Recovery. (2015). Retrieved from
[6]: The Best Doctor for Eating Disorder Recovery. (2015). Retrieved from
[7]: The Best Doctor for Eating Disorder Recovery. (2015). Retrieved from

Jennifer RollinAbout the Author: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW, is a therapist who specializes in working with adolescents, mood disorders, eating disorders, and with survivors of trauma. Jennifer has worked in a variety of settings including, an outpatient mental health clinic, therapeutic group homes, and a sexual assault hotline. Jennifer is an expert blogger for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. For self-love and body-positive inspiration connect with her on Facebook.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 3, 2016
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