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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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Can a therapist diagnose an eating disorder?

Struggling with an undiagnosed eating disorder is often a difficult thing to talk about. Even if you're already in therapy for related issues, it can feel challenging to bring up concerns you may have about your body, weight, food, or eating disorder behaviors in order to get a diagnosis. But thankfully, therapists can be a great ally and integral part of your support system. 

Yes, a therapist can diagnose an eating disorder. Most mental health professionals do have the ability to diagnose eating disorders, or at least get the process started. Overall, an eating disorder diagnosis usually involves a mental health screening, which can be conducted by your therapist, and a physical evaluation, which is generally conducted by your primary care physician or other medical expert like a nurse practitioner.1

Your mental health therapist will likely ask you some questions about thoughts or behaviors you may be experiencing, the frequency, intensity, and duration of symptoms, and about your medical and psychological history, to help them round out their analysis.

Once you tell your therapist about your concerns or experiences, they might pursue this information further, to make an eating disorder diagnosis. Having the condition officially noted is usually the first step toward securing the specific treatment—and health insurance coverage for it—that can help you overcome these unpleasant and unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

Remote therapy can help you recover from your eating disorder
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Last updated on 
October 9, 2023
Eating disorder therapist
In this article

How to tell your therapist about an eating disorder

If you're unsure about how—or when—to tell your therapist about your eating habits, here are a few tips that may be able to help.

1. Remember the laws and principles of mental health therapy
2. Be open and honest with yourself and others
3. Find a type of therapy that works for you

How to find an eating disorder therapist

All mental health professionals are bound to the ethical principles laid out by their governing body. For example, psychiatrists are bound by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and, when diagnosing an eating disorder, will follow the impartial diagnostic criteria put forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).9,10

But finding someone who you connect with and trust outside of these professional guarantees is an essential part to finding the best therapist for you—and one you'd feel comfortable opening up to about your eating disorder.

If you have the ability to weigh out your options, you should keep these considerations in mind when choosing an eating disorder therapist.

Eating disorder therapy session

Treatment approach

One of the most important factors to consider is the therapist's approach to treatment. Different therapists may have different treatment philosophies and methods, so it's good to find one that utilizes evidence-based treatments and aligns with your personal needs and goals.

Many therapists or hospital programs also utilize trauma-informed care. This set of principles and policies is meant to help patients with a background of trauma feel safer and more comfortable and secure in their sessions.11

Sensitivity to identity and background

Aside from treatment approach, many people feel strongly about certain aspects of their identity, including their gender identity and sexuality, cultural background, neurotype, race and ethnicity, body size, or other features about themselves.

Finding a therapist that understands and respects these factors can make a big difference toward building an overall sense of trust and connection. Some patients even prefer being treated by a therapist with the same identifying factors or background.

Accessibility

Accessibility could look like finding a mental health professional who is located nearby or it could mean finding a therapist who offers virtual care programs, like the programs offered at Within. Finding a therapist who can offer regular appointments that fit into your schedule can also make it easier to commit to therapy and stay on track with your recovery.

Virtual programs make eating disorder treatment more accessible than ever. Call us today to get help wherever you are.

Get help

Recovery from an eating disorder is a team effort. It is therefore often advised that you work with a medical doctor and a dietician, in addition to your mental health therapist. You will want to make sure that your therapist is willing to work collaboratively with you and your support team. At Within, our team of dieticians, nurses, and psychotherapists all work together with you to achieve your treatment goals.

Don’t give up—you’re worth it

Telling a therapist about your eating disorder can feel intimidating, but it's one of the most important steps you can make in getting support for your eating disorder. 

At Within, we strive to help people connect with the right kind of help for their needs, and our results reflect our successful methods. Our team of multidisciplinary experts can help patients dealing with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other eating disorders get the help they need. Our team works with you to create individualized eating disorder treatment plans catered to a patient's specific background and concerns.

But, regardless of where you look for help, the most important part is making the decision to do so. It's often not a quick or easy process—and neither is recovery—but it's one that can set you on the road toward healing, and living your best life.

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.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. Eating disorders. (2023, March 28). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 
  2. HIPAA privacy rule and sharing information related to mental health. (n.d.). Department of Health and Human Services USA. 
  3. Weiner, I. B., & Bornstein, R. F. (2009). Principles of psychotherapy promoting evidence-based psychodynamic practice. John Wiley & Sons.
  4. Kelly, A. C., & Carter, J. C. (2012). Why self-critical patients present with more severe eating disorder pathology: The mediating role of shame. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 52(2), 148–161. 
  5. Murphy, R., Straebler, S., Cooper, Z., & Fairburn, C. G. (2010). Cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(3), 611–627. 
  6. Griffin, C., Fenner, P., Landorf, K. B., & Cotchett, M. (2021a). Effectiveness of art therapy for people with eating disorders: A mixed methods systematic review. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 76, 101859. 
  7. Bailey, M. E. (2022). Science catching up: Experiential family therapy and neuroscience. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 48(4), 1095–1110. 
  8. Linehan, M. M., & Chen, E. Y. (2005). Dialectical behavior therapy for eating disorders. Encyclopedia of cognitive behavior therapy, 168-171.
  9. Clinical practice guidelines. (n.d.). American Psychiatric Association.
  10. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR). (n.d.). American Psychiatric Association.
  11. Brewerton, T. D., Alexander, J., & Schaefer, J. (2019). Trauma-informed care and practice for eating disorders: personal and professional perspectives of lived experiences. Eating and weight disorders: EWD, 24(2), 329–338.

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