Eating Disorder Diagnosis - a Step-by-Step Guide for Adults
Recognising that an eating disorder diagnosis may be necessary, either for yourself or for someone that you are close to, is an understandably frightening realisation.
Our specialists have put together a step-by-step guide to help you understand more about the diagnosis process. We have also included information of how our team can provide a person with the support and treatment that they need during their diagnosis and recovery journey.
1) Understanding your signs and symptoms
During an eating disorder diagnosis, a doctor will want to find out as much as possible about the signs and symptoms that you are experiencing in order to be able to provide the right support.
There are a number of different eating disorders, each of which has different signs and symptoms that they are commonly associated with. These include the following:
- Anorexia Nervosa – the most common symptom of anorexia is a preoccupation with restricting food and drink intake. It can involve spending excessive amounts of time worrying about calorie-counting and portion control. This typically results in those with anorexia having a very low body weight, meaning they can be dangerously thin. Obsessive exercising often goes hand-in-hand with this pursuit of weight loss, along with a distorted body image which limits your ability to recognise how thin you may have become.
- Bulimia Nervosa – bulimia most commonly consists of eating large amounts of food in one sitting, often in secret, followed by purging – which can mean vomiting, laxative abuse or other compensatory behaviours. Like anorexia, this behaviour is often led by an overwhelming desire to limit calorie intake, also causing urges to exercise frequently. It is common to experience guilt and shame after binging. You may also avoid any social activities that involve eating.
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED) – someone with BED will often feel compelled to eat to excess, to the point where they feel uncomfortably full. A binge will typically happen during a single sitting, often in secret. The person is likely to have planned the binge in advance, buy and eat specific types of foods, and often feel guilty and sad afterwards.
- Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED) – the symptoms of OFSED are less defined than other eating disorders, as they by nature don’t fit into a single category. They will often include a combination of the symptoms associated with anorexia, bulimia and BED.
2) Talk to a trusted confidante
We place great emphasis on family and friends supporting loved ones during the diagnosis and treatment process. At Life Works, we regularly see how this benefits the outcome of professional treatment.
We recommend that you invite someone to be there with you as you start to seek help for your eating disorder.
Tell a family member, partner or friend about your decision and allow them to share the crucial early stages of your journey with you. Ask them to accompany you to your appointments if possible.
Embarking on these first steps with someone who cares for you by your side will help you to move towards recovery with confidence.
- Visiting a medical professional
When you visit your medical practice or an eating disorder treatment centre like Life Works for an eating disorder diagnosis, the specialist who is doing your assessment is likely to carry out the following:
- They may ask questions about your thoughts, feelings and eating habits
- They may carry out a physical exam
- They may refer you for further tests
These different steps help the specialist to pinpoint a correct diagnosis and to rule out any other possible causes of the signs and symptoms that you are experiencing.
- Accessing support and treatment
Following on from an eating disorder diagnosis, either through Life Works or another doctor, our team can work to create a treatment plan tailored to your symptoms, needs and goals for the future.
Here at Life Works, we have helped many people overcome both the physical and psychological symptoms of eating disorders. Our treatment programmes are suitable for both men and women over 18, who have a body mass index (BMI) of 14.5 and above. We are able to provide inpatient, day care or outpatient treatment options. Inpatient programmes consist of residential treatment lasting for between 28 and 42 days.
Our highly-qualified team of specialists are experienced with numerous evidence-based therapeutic treatment methods for eating disorders. These include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)
- Art-informed therapy
- Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT)
- MANTRA Maudsley Model of Anorexia Nervosa Treatment for Adults
These are delivered in 1:1, group or family therapy formats. We also provide personalised meal plans, and activities such as weekly shopping and cooking groups.
Eating disorder diagnosis – Life Works FAQs
Here, we have answered a few common questions around getting an eating disorder diagnosis with Life Works:
- Do I need a diagnosis before I come to you?
No, you can self-refer yourself to us without a formal diagnosis.
- Can you assess and diagnose me for an eating disorder at Life Works?
Yes, you will receive a psychiatric assessment from one of our consultant psychiatrists specialising in eating disorders, as well as a dietetic assessment from a dietician, prior to admission for treatment. Your assessment may well result in a formal diagnosis, which would be provided by our experienced consultant psychiatrist.
- Can I come for treatment at Life Works without a diagnosis?
You will be provided with appropriate treatment for your needs, based on your initial assessment and potential diagnosis given.
- What will the timeframe be between diagnosis and treatment?
Admission can take place relatively quickly and could be as soon as the next day, provided that funding arrangements are all in place. The start of your treatment can also be subject to our bed availability at that time, if a residential programme is recommended.
This blog was reviewed by David Waller, (MA Oxon, Postgraduate Certificate in Addiction Psychology and Counselling, Postgraduate Diploma in Addiction Psychology and Counselling with Distinction, Registered member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and member of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP)), Eating Disorder Programme Lead at Life Works.