Can anorexia nervosa be cured?

No items found.
No items found.

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious, and, unfortunately, sometimes deadly disorder. But as dire as that sounds, there is hope: it is possible to recover from anorexia nervosa. 

Through the help of a multidisciplinary team of experts—including dieticians, therapists, nurses and doctors,as well as a solid support system of family, friends or others on the path toward healing, recovery from anorexia nervosa is entirely possible.

Last updated on 
In this article

What causes anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa can be caused by a number of different biological, psychological, and social factors, and often the development of the disorder is the result of several of these influences. Further, after developing anorexia nervosa, individuals might continue to struggle with the disorder due to a number of closely-related and frequently intertwined sustaining factors.

While it was long thought that AN was caused entirely from social pressures to stay thin, more recent research has indicated that genetic factors can play a role in the development of this disorder. 

People can either be born with a higher risk of developing anorexia nervosa itself, or with a number of other characteristics that make them more susceptible to developing the disorder, including high levels of stress reactivity, anxious affect, and harm avoidance, which impact the way people respond to stressful situations. (1)

In these cases, an individual might start experiencing the types of thoughts and behaviors related to anorexia nervosa after a “triggering” incident activates their biological predisposition. (1) But the development—and maintenance—of the disorder can also be linked to depression, and a number of different anxiety disorders. Issues of low self-esteem and unhappiness surrounding body image can also play a role.

One of the reasons it may be difficult to recover from anorexia nervosa is because all of these factors must be taken into account when determining the best treatment approach for each individual. But a well-thought-out individualized treatment plan should address all of these concerns, as well as offer tools to help provide support throughout the recovery process.

Types of treatment for anorexia nervosa

There are a number of different methods that can help people recover from anorexia nervosa, and many of them may be used, often simultaneously, over the course of the journey toward healing.

From a psychotherapeutic standpoint, many people with AN benefit from cognitive remediation therapy (CRT). The overall goals of CRT are to help people become more flexible in their thinking and more confident in their own abilities to take care of themselves. (2) 

Mental flexibility is particularly helpful for people with anorexia nervosa, as many of them also struggle with very rigid thinking patterns that also often work to maintain the disorder. (3) And a boost in confidence can be especially helpful for individuals dealing with issues of low self-esteem and poor body image. The tools and techniques taught to patients in CRT are also useful for helping to maintain recovery long term.

Mental health therapists are usually not the only healthcare professional a person recovering from AN will have on a treatment team. Depending on the program the person is in or their personalized treatment plan, individuals recovering from anorexia nervosa will work with a team of medical doctors, nurses, and other experts to help them get and stay on the path toward healing.

Dietitians are usually always involved in the process. Often, these professionals have training in therapeutic techniques commonly used to treat eating disorders and can offer foundational information on proper nutrition, along with continued guidance for building and maintaining a nourishing diet.

Medical doctors like a psychiatrist, advanced practice registered nurse, or physician assistant may also prescribe medications to help individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa. In these cases, the person will continue seeing the doctor or medication provider over the course of their recovery to check on and adjust medication levels as-needed.

And, depending on the program, other healthcare professionals may be available to help provide support through the process. Often, a counselor will supervise meals and snacks through the first several steps of recovery, offering support during what can be a particularly tricky time for most people struggling with anorexia nervosa. This meal support may also be provided by family members or virtual services, like those at Within Health.

Can anorexia be cured?

When asking the question of can anorexia be cured, it is important to understand that the journey to recovery from anorexia nervosa can take some time. It doesn’t end once a person works through their formal treatment plan or finishes a higher level of care. But rest assured anorexia can be treated, and recovered from with continued support.

AN has an unfortunately high rate of relapse, which makes it especially crucial for those in recovery to find the type of support that can help them stay committed to their recovery process and people they feel they can consistently rely on to show up for their best interests.

Fortunately, just that type of help can be easier to find than many people may think.

Willing confidants and reliable cheerleaders can often be found among family members and friends. If that’s not the case, other patients the person met along their journey can also be good sources of support.

Even if an individual feels that they are alone in their recovery process, there are a number of eating disorder support groups that may offer the type of help, understanding, and camaraderie that can make a life in recovery not just a lasting one but a happy one. 

Recovery from anorexia nervosa is undoubtedly a trying process. It may take a long time. It may not be linear. It may even feel unbearable or impossible at times. But no matter what the case, the most important thing to remember is that healing is possible and it’s always ok to reach out for support.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Resources

  1. Anorexia nervosa. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 28). Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/anorexia 
  2. van Passel, B., Danner, U., Dingemans, A., van Furth, E., Sternheim, L., van Elburg, A., van Minnen, A., van den Hout, M., Hendriks, G.-J., & Cath, D. (2016). Cognitive remediation therapy (CRT) as a treatment enhancer of eating disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. BMC Psychiatry, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-016-1109-x 
  3. Brockmeyer, T., Febry, H., Leiteritz-Rausch, A., Wuumlnsch-Leiteritz, W., Leiteritz, A., & Friederich, H.-C. (2022, February 15). Cognitive flexibility, central coherence, and quality of life in anorexia nervosa - journal of eating disorders. BioMed Central. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-022-00547-4

FAQs

Further reading

Thumbnail image of an article

Differences between anorexia and anorexia nervosa

The two terms “anorexia” and “anorexia nervosa” have different meanings. When...
Thumbnail image of an article

How does anorexia nervosa affect mental health?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is an eating disorder that leads to a fixation on...
Thumbnail image of an article

What is the restricting type of anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa restricting type describes someone who restricts their food intake...
Thumbnail image of an article

What is acute anorexia?

Acute anorexia nervosa is the most advanced stage of anorexia nervosa, which is...
Thumbnail image of an article

What causes anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a very serious eating disorder, second only to opioid use as the...
Thumbnail image of an article

What are the long term effects of anorexia?

In individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN), some may experience its effects in the...
Thumbnail image of an article

The limitations of diagnosing anorexia with BMI

Body mass index (BMI) is a way of measuring a person’s weight compared to their height...
Thumbnail image of an article

The dangers of anorexiant diet pills

Anorexiant diet pills have increased dangers for those with an eating disorder. There...
Thumbnail image of an article

Signs you need treatment for anorexia nervosa

There are many anorexia health risks, which present as symptoms and signs of...
Thumbnail image of an article

Signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious illness that may manifest in several ways...
Thumbnail image of an article

Is anorexia genetic?

For decades, many assumed anorexia nervosa (AN) was a psychosocial illness...
Thumbnail image of an article

Identifying anorexia risk factors

Eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa (AN), are complex and serious...
Thumbnail image of an article

Is anorexia a disease?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is not a disease. A disease is when there is a harmful change in...
Thumbnail image of an article

How to help someone with anorexia nervosa

If you’ve found yourself on this page, it’s likely because someone in your life has...
Thumbnail image of an article

How does anorexia nervosa develop?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious eating disorder that involves caloric restriction...
Thumbnail image of an article

Hidden characteristics of anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is one of the most widely-known types of eating disorders, but...
Thumbnail image of an article

Harmful outcomes of the pro-ana movement

Imagine that there were websites that encouraged people not to get treatment for...
Thumbnail image of an article

Examining the anorexia death rate

Eating disorders are routinely cited as being among the most lethal mental health...
Thumbnail image of an article

Early warning signs of anorexia nervosa

Facing an eating disorder, like anorexia nervosa (AN), in your own life or that of a...
Thumbnail image of an article

Can you have mild anorexia?

“Mild anorexia” is not currently a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical...
Thumbnail image of an article

Can anorexia nervosa be cured?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious, and, unfortunately, sometimes deadly disorder. But...
Thumbnail image of an article

Anorexia nervosa recovery tips

Once you have been through treatment for anorexia nervosa (AN), it’s so important...
Thumbnail image of an article

Anorexia nervosa statistics: Gender, race and socioeconomics

When examining anorexia statistics, or eating disorder rates in general, the results...
Thumbnail image of an article

What is anorexia nervosa (AN)?

More than 28 million Americans, or roughly 9% of the population, will experience...