Why Residential Eating Disorders Treatment May Be Best Option
In a separate post, I discussed what to expect from residential treatment for an eating disorder. However, I did not spend as much time exploring why residential treatment can be an excellent option for individuals looking to heal from an eating disorder. So, today, I will go a bit further into discussing the merits of that.
Treatment Program: Ryan Poling, MA, writes on behalf of Carolina House, an eating disorder and mental health treatment program located in North Carolina that provides residential treatment for women, as well as partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient services for both men and women.
Eating disorders are pervasive problems. They are not confined to one compartmentalized area of a person’s life. Yes, eating disorders, by definition, have to do with eating, which may seem like a relatively small portion of a person’s day. However, the shame, embarrassment, self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression, and other eating disorders health problems and complications that can come along with anorexia or bulimia ripple outward and can cause disruptive waves in nearly every other area of a person’s life.
Some people are able to find success with outpatient eating disorders treatment, such as regular weekly visits with a therapist. However, other individuals’ eating disorders do not respond to outpatient treatment alone. For these people, residential treatment may present as a better treatment option. But why? What can a residential eating disorders treatment center provide that outpatient treatment cannot?
Break the Triangle
Every elementary school student who has seen a fire safety presentation knows the three necessary elements for a fire are oxygen, heat, and a fuel source. Remove any one of these three, and the fire withers. Similarly, one way to think about eating disorders is as having a “fire triangle” of their own. Instead of oxygen, heat, and fuel, eating disorders can be thought of as being a result of genetics/physiology, personality, and environment. (Causes of Eating Disorders)
Like any analogy, the eating disorder triangle is somewhat of an oversimplification, as all three of the legs of the triangle are interrelated. For example, researchers are investigating the physiological effects that psychotherapy has on the brain. That being said, it can be helpful to think of successful treatment as being the result of a change in one or more legs of the triangle.
There is typically little a person can do to alter his or her genetics and physiology, and certain elements of personality tend to be relatively stable across the lifespan. However, a person has a greater amount of control over his or her environment, and for some people, changing their environments can be the best way to break the triangle.
Finding Sanctuary in Residential Eating Disorders Treatment
This brings me to one of the primary benefits of residential treatment for eating disorders: changing one’s environment. Residential treatment provides eating disorder sufferers with a sanctuary from the stresses of daily life. In an environment of care and support, and in community with other people who are on the same journey, those who are struggling with eating disorders have space to address underlying pain and unhealed wounds that may be impelling them towards disordered eating. Furthermore, they are able to do so in community. I have previously written about how men with addictions thrive in goal-oriented groups, but women, too, thrive in groups and benefit from the support they receive from each other.
Before considering residential treatment for an eating disorder, it is important to discuss your options with a mental health professional and talk about whether residential treatment would be right for you. For those wrestling with eating disorders, the struggle can seem long and lonely. However, by remaining persistent and seeking help, it is possible to restore a healthy relationship with eating.
 Barsaglini, A., Sartori, G., Benetti, S., Pettersson-Yeo, W., and Mechelli, A. (2014). The effects of psychotherapy on brain function: A systematic and critical review. Progress in Neurobiology, 114, 1-14. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2013.10.006.
 Kagan, J. & Snidman, N. (2004). The long shadow of temperament. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Poling, R. (2015, August 24). Why Residential Eating Disorders Treatment May Be Best Option, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, June 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalhealthtreatmentcircle/2015/08/why-residential-eating-disorders-treatment-may-be-best-option
Author: Ryan Poling, MA, MAT
I learned a little about eating disorders in a psychology class, and I'm glad that it was brought to my attention. Though I have a hard time understanding it, I want to know more so I can have more empathy for those that do. I can agree that being surrounded by people who have the same struggles as you is really empowering. I think it's a great thing to consider when having an issue of any kind.
Glad to hear that you are seeking to understand the struggles of individuals with eating disorders and trying to build your ability to be empathetic. Keep it up!