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Treating Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are behavioral and mental health conditions that interfere with eating behaviors related to thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and values (Knight, 2021). There are several types of eating disorders that disturb a person’s day-to-day life. Anorexia nervosa is when food intake is restricted with the goal of losing weight and the fear of gaining weight. Bulimia nervosa is when excessive food intake is binged then vomited to ensure the person’s weight is maintained. Binge eating disorder is overeating when not hungry due to emotions, depression, guilt, or diminished self-esteem. Any of the following eating disorders are harmful to the person’s cognitive, physical, medical, and psychological health.


Occupational therapists can play a huge role when it comes to treating patients that are experiencing eating disorders. Occupational therapy consists of helping clients engage in daily activities that they want to do and have to do (Mack et al., 2023). The goal is to learn about the patient, what their hobbies are, their motivations, their values, and responsibilities that do not solely focus on their disordered eating. You can imagine the patient’s doctors, caregivers, and peers are already “judging” or creating an excessive worry for them. Once the occupational therapist learns about the patient, the occupational therapist can provide different ideas and therapeutic interventions to help decrease their disorderly eating. In addition, a patient with an eating disorder may also not know they have an eating disorder in the first place. Occupational therapists can educate what a meal looks like, how to cook a meal, how to bake a meal, mealtime behaviors, and try-it strategies with new foods.


What Occupational Therapy can look like:

  • Food preparation

  • Trip to the grocery store

  • Restaurant outing

  • Gardening

  • Finding their motivation (e.g., creating art, reading, listening to music) to help support eating

  • Provide support in must-have tasks (e.g., oral hygiene, completing homework, finances)

  • Teaching appropriate eating behaviors

  • Determine a balance between must-have tasks and desired activities

  • Emotional regulation

  • Boost self-esteem

  • Positive coping skills

  • Identify roles wanted

  • Develop problem-solving skills


It is important to consider that patients with eating disorders are as complex as the person’s cognitive, physical, medical, and psychological health, as all areas are impacted (Mark et al., 2023). Therefore, a multidisciplinary approach is important to address each aspect of the person. Potential professions that can be involved but not limited to are:

  • Occupational therapist

  • Family Therapist

  • Social worker

  • Nurse

  • Exercise Therapist

  • Counselors

  • Physician

  • Psychologist


References

Knight, C. (2021, March 16). What is an eating disorder?. News Medical Life Sciences.

https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-an-Eating-Disorder.aspx

Mack, R. A., Stanton, C. E., & Carney, M. R. (2023). The importance of including occupational

therapists as part of the multidisciplinary team in the management of eating disorders:

a narrative review incorporating lived experience. Journal of Eating Disorders, 11(1),

1–8. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-023-00763-6

Mack, R. (2019, April 26). Treating Eating Disorders: An Inside Look at Occupation-Based

Interventions. Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/publications/ot-practice/ot-practice-

issues/2019/eating-disorders

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