Eating disorders: the importance of management

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are fairly common disorders, especially among teenage girls and young women. Fortunately, there are ways to cope.

Eating disorders: an overview

In a society that focuses on body image, it's not surprising to see an increase in eating disorders, especially among teenage girls and young adult women. Of the various types, anorexia and bulimia are probably the most common and best known.

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a distorted perception of body image, associated with an excessive fear of gaining weight. The affected person turns to food deprivation through fasting. This leads to a state of undernutrition and thinness, as well as other health problems.

Anorexia nervosa is often accompanied by other psychological or psychiatric disorders, including addictions, anxiety, depression or personality disorders. It can lead to serious, sometimes tragic consequences. It is estimated that between 5% and 20% of those affected by it die as a result of anorexia nervosa or by suicide.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by episodes of compulsive eating where the affected person ingests food in an excessive and frenzied manner without feeling pleasure, satisfaction or satiety. After such episodes, the affected person will adopt voluntary compensatory behaviours: self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, purgative agents or enemas, etc. Fasting and abusive physical exercise are often also part of the picture..


The causes of eating disorders

The causes and risk factors of eating disorders are not fully known at this time, but it is believed that their origin is most likely multifactorial. Thus, biological, hereditary, psychosocial, familial and environmental factors may contribute to the development of such disorders. Low self-esteem or major personal problems (e.g., bereavement, break-ups, abuse or trauma) are often blamed.

In order to properly manage the disease, attempts must be made to identify contributing or aggravating factors so that response measures can be adapted accordingly.


Management of an eating disorder

The "sooner the better" principle applies very well to the management of an eating disorder. Early detection and the early adoption of support and treatment measures are key to putting the person on the road to recovery. This will improve prognosis while reducing the risk of chronicity and complications. It is therefore important to see a doctor quickly so that a diagnosis can be made and a process undertaken.

There is no single treatment plan or formula that can resolve the situation. Managing an eating disorder is a complex (and often lengthy) process that must take into account many factors and requires the expertise of skilled healthcare professionals. One of the challenges is denial of the disease and resistance to treatment, which are common issues.

The treatment objectives are as follows:

  • normalize weight (especially in cases of anorexia nervosa)
  • treat emotional and mental suffering
  • correct deviant eating behaviours
  • minimize short-, medium- and long-term impacts
  • return to a normal life

These goals can be achieved through various measures within a well-established treatment plan. Here are a few examples.

Medical care

It is not uncommon, in very severe cases of anorexia nervosa, that hospitalization and intensive medical care are required. Sometimes, the person's survival depends on it. Ambulance transportation may be necessary. Once the person's condition is stabilized, a multidimensional recovery process can be undertaken.

Nutritional support

Supplementation with various nutrients is often necessary to make up for deficiencies and restore the person's health. The involvement of a dietitian in the treatment plan is essential in the short, medium and long term. Once nutritional balance is restored, a plan must be developed to ensure that dietary needs remain satisfied and that new habits are developed.


Psychotherapy is an important aspect of care. Cognitive-behavioural therapy, a proven approach to eating disorders, is often used. Family therapy is sometimes appropriate, especially when the affected person is a child or adolescent.


Taking certain medications can help people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. These may include antipsychotics, antidepressants or anxiolytics used in the treatment of other mental health disorders. Medication should not be used as first-line care, but rather as a complement to other measures when necessary. 

Support groups

Therapy and support groups are beneficial to the healing process. They are complementary resources to individual or family therapy that allow sufferers to share their experiences and benefit from the experience of others in a climate of trust, respect and mutual aid.

Support from family and friends

The role of your family and friends is crucial to controlling anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. It can be difficult to accompany a loved one with an eating disorder. Understanding and coping with this reality can require support. Being well informed about the disease, its treatment and available resources can help. For additional information on this subject, read the following text "Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: how to detect them in a loved one"

The fight against anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is a big one, but nowadays, it is possible to come out victorious. There is strength in numbers, so it's important to find allies and winning strategies.

Don't hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about the treatment of eating disorders.


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Eating disorders: the importance of management

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are fairly common disorders, especially among teenage girls and young women. Fortunately, there are ways to cope.
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