Urgently Needed Innovation in Treatment of Eating Disorders – Part III

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Eating disorders are complex conditions because they are medical and mental health issues. Their complexity makes them more complicated to treat. Finding effective treatment methods for these complex conditions is extra complicated because researchers are not entirely sure what causes disordered eating [1].

It is hard to create effective treatment methods when professionals are not entirely sure about what causes these disorders. While there are some evidence-based treatment methods, there are aspects of the recovery process that current treatment methods do not address [1].

Where Improvements Need to be Made in the Recovery Process for Eating Disorders

Woman struggling with eating disordersThese gaps may increase the risk of relapse. There are areas of eating disorder treatment that urgently need innovation. These areas for concern include the following:

Limiting transitions: Current research shows that the majority of treatment programs separate adolescents and adults [1]. There are some concerns about this, given that for some people, treatment is needed for several years in order to fully recover and to decrease the risk for relapse [1].

Having to transition to different treatment providers may be detrimental to the recovery process. Having to transition between programs may also come with logistical concerns such as having a waiting period between treatment programs. These added stressors may increase the risk of relapse [1].

Effective treatment for common co-occurring disorders: Someone has co-occurring disorders when they have at least two conditions at the same time. For example, someone who is diagnosed with bulimia and type 1 diabetes has co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders are common with eating disorders.

The most common co-occurring conditions are depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, substance abuse, and self-harm [2]. It is important to treat co-occurring disorders because they often worsen the other condition. For example, someone who is struggling with anxiety and an eating disorder may find that the anxiety worsens their eating disorder and vice versa. While treatment centers often treat co-occurring disorders, it can be difficult. More treatment options are needed [1].

Risk Factors and Prevention Measures: While developing effective treatment options is necessary, being able to identify risk factors is important too [1]. More research about risk factors can help develop more effective prevention measures. Effective prevention techniques could reduce the frequency of eating disorders.

Eating disorders are one of the deadliest mental illnesses [2]. Further understanding of these disorders and effective prevention and treatment options is critical. Innovation in eating disorder research and treatment is an investment in millions of lives.


[1] Treasure, J., Antunes Duarte, T., & Schmidt, U. (2020) Eating disorders, 395, 899-911.

[2] National Eating Disorder Association. (2018). Statistics and research on eating disorders. Learn. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a 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.

Published November 25, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 25, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC