Anorexia is a severe and life-threatening eating disorder that affects millions of individuals. People may wonder if eating disorders are serious enough to require hospitalization and how outpatient therapy can help. Outpatient care is an invaluable resource in treating anorexia and can make a tremendous difference in providing coping strategies for individuals in recovery. Today, we will explore how outpatient care can help people suffering from anorexia and the different outpatient services available for anorexia recovery.
What Is Outpatient Care?
Outpatient care is an essential component of anorexia treatment. Generally, once a person is stable, they can be discharged from the inpatient or hospital care where they were admitted. Outpatient care may look similar, involving counseling, timed and planned meals, and intensive therapy sessions (1). Outpatient care serves as a cornerstone in maintenance when treating anorexia. If you are accessing care via an outpatient program, there are many things you will want to consider.
Factors determining outpatient care for each individual include age, distance one lives from the treating center, and family involvement (1). These factors will also determine how often an individual will attend the outpatient setting; for instance, it may be five times a week during early treatment or once a week.
Some eating disorder treatment centers will offer day programs. These programs require the client to attend four to five days weekly. These intensive sessions involve spending the entire day in treatment and attending school-based programming if the client is a student. During these intensive day programs, individuals eat all meals in the program except one meal and snack, which they may eat at home (2).
Ways Outpatient Care Helps People with Anorexia
Outpatient care provides those working through recovery the opportunity and flexibility to receive care and support while working to return to their day-to-day lives. The process assists individuals with developing coping strategies as they return to daily activities, such as school or work. These may include the following:
- Managing social situations
- Balancing work or school with recovery
- Shopping for groceries and creating meal plans
- Managing emotional reactions
This flexibility allows for a balance, as it can be challenging for individuals to miss school or work and be without their social communities for extended periods if hospitalized.
Treatment Available Through Outpatient Care
Outpatient eating disorder programs include group therapy sessions, family counseling, and nutrition and meal counseling and planning. Those attending these sessions may also take field trips to grocery stores or restaurants to facilitate using the skills learned in therapy sessions (2).
Individuals attending outpatient programs will interact with support staff, including dietitians, psychiatrists, nurses or nurse practitioners, and social workers. Depending on the severity of the illness, the individual may need regular medical monitoring and take prescribed medications.
Outpatient programs provide a team-based approach to supporting the individual in recovery.
How Does Outpatient Care Help Someone Suffering from Anorexia Gain Control of Their Condition?
Outpatient care helps the individual gain control over the disease and their health. The team-based setting focuses on creating a comprehensive care plan based on goals set by the individual. These goals will address counseling and lifestyle changes to manage anorexia. The program provides individuals with techniques to help them learn ways to regulate behavior and gain insight into their relationship with food.
Outpatient care offers ongoing support and education for the individual and their family. Consistent support, along with other treatment modalities, will help the individual gain control of the eating disorder.
Drawbacks to Using Outpatient Care for Anorexia Treatment
While outpatient therapy has many benefits, there can also be some challenges. Because it is a long-term disease in which the individual may experience episodes of remission and illness, anorexia may require more than outpatient treatment (3). If the individual experiences an exacerbation of the disease, they may need to be readmitted to the hospital.
Additionally, outpatient programs may not be accessible for everyone, for instance, those living rurally. If the treatment requires attendance frequently, someone who commutes or cannot take time from work or school may not adhere to the program.
Outpatient treatment requires commitment on the part of the individual and their family. A lack of consistency in attending may make it challenging to ensure sustained treatment.
Finally, insurance may not cover outpatient care. The cost of programming combined with travel costs may mean outpatient treatment is not financially feasible for some.
Outpatient care is an effective component of a comprehensive treatment plan when individuals suffering from anorexia are ready for this stage. As there is less structure and immediate medical attention with outpatient care, providers must ensure the individual is prepared (4).
Outpatient care is a supportive measure in the recovery process. Healthcare treatment centers like the Toledo Center provide unique programming for children and adolescents of all genders, including outpatient care. If you require further treatment and support, contact us at 419-885-8800.
- Cowden, S. (2020). How Outpatient Therapy is Used for Eating Disorders. VeryWellMind. https://www.verywellmind.com/outpatient-treatment-for-eating-disorders-1138356
- Adrianne. (n.d.) What is Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Eating Disorders?. Centre for Discovery. https://centerfordiscovery.com/blog/intensive-outpatient-treatment-eating-disorders/
- Frostad, S. & Bentz, M. (2022). Anorexia Nervosa: Outpatient Treatment and Medical Management. World Journal of Psychology,12(4), 558–579. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9048449/
- The Monte Nido Centre. (n.d.). Can Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment really work?. https://www.montenido.com/outpatient-eating-disorder-treatment/
Kim English is a Nursing Professor and has been teaching nurses at the undergraduate and postgraduate level since 2002. Kim has supported a family member through the lived experience of eating disorders and works to advocate for support in rural areas.