person on scale with measuring tape to symbolize eating disorder

Eating disorders (EDs) are complex mental health conditions that affect millions of people worldwide. They are characterized by abnormal eating habits and a distorted body image, often leading to severe physical and emotional consequences. Eating disorders are notoriously difficult to treat, and even those seeking active counseling are highly susceptible to relapse. Given the life-threatening nature of a severe ED, consistent and effective treatment is critical. Current research suggests that ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP) may offer a much-needed alternative therapy for EDs. 

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can have a significant impact on a person’s physical and emotional well-being. They can develop when a person uses food to cope with underlying mental health struggles. EDs are not just about food, however. Rather, they are a complex interplay of psychological, biological, and social factors.

The behaviors associated with eating disorders vary depending on the type. In general, however, eating disorders are characterized by abnormal eating habits and unhealthy changes in weight. 

Types of Eating Disorders

There are several types of eating disorders, each with its own set of symptoms and characteristics. Three of the most common types include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by extreme weight loss and a distorted body image. People with anorexia often restrict their food intake to an unhealthy level, leading to severe malnutrition and weight loss.

Symptoms of anorexia may include:

The treatment of anorexia nervosa typically involves cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to address the unhealthy eating patterns and restrictive behaviors. In severe cases, hospitalization and supervised eating may be required prior to beginning CBT. Medication may also be prescribed if there are comorbid conditions present, such as OCD or depression. Currently, however, there is no approved medication specifically for the treatment of anorexia. 

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves a cycle of binge eating and purging. People with bulimia may consume large amounts of food in a short period and then try to compensate for the calories by purging through self-induced vomiting, laxative use, or excessive exercise.

Symptoms of bulimia may include:

The standard course of treatment for bulimia also involves a combination of talk therapy and medication. Prozac is currently the only FDA approved drug specifically for the treatment of bulimia, though other medications may be prescribed to treat co-existing mental health concerns. 

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating without purging behaviors. People with this disorder may feel a loss of control during these episodes and may eat until they are uncomfortably full.

Symptoms of binge eating disorder may include:

Again, the treatment for binge eating disorder largely centers around CBT and medication for comorbid conditions. There is one medication that is FDA-approved for binge eating disorder, which is Vyvanse. 

Better Treatment for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are associated not only with poor mental health, but with poor physical health as well. This is not limited to weight fluctuations: a host of potentially life-threatening side effects can occur in response to prolonged food restriction, binging, and/or purging. Heart problems, electrolyte imbalances, hypoglycemia, osteoporosis, and other health issues associated with chronic malnutrition can develop without prompt treatment.

As we have seen, pharmacological support for eating disorders is severely lacking, and the ones that are available have limitations. The Prozac used to treat bulimia, for example, requires six weeks or more to have any appreciable results. Vyvanse, the drug approved for binge-eating disorder, is a powerful stimulant with a long list of potential side effects. And, of course, anorexia nervosa has no approved drug at all. 

Given the potentially life-threatening nature of these disorders, better treatment is desperately needed. Ketamine assisted psychotherapy has seen far reaching results in mental health care, and ongoing research supports its use in the treatment of eating disorders as well. 

How Does Ketamine Treat Eating Disorders?

Ketamine has been shown to have a direct effect on the brain’s plasticity, which is integral in the creation of memories. It also stimulates the hippocampus to create new neurons, effectively regenerating neural pathways and connections. As disorders that involve compulsive behaviors, this “rewiring” of the brain may have an unprecedented effect on treatment outcomes. 

Patient resistance to treatment is another barrier to effective therapy in eating disorders. Ketamine may act as a “therapy incubator,” creating a deeper sense of trust and understanding between patient and provider. This, in turn, may make sufferers of eating disorders less resistant to supportive therapies recommended by their doctor. 

Seeking Help for an Eating Disorder

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is essential to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional. Eating disorders are not typically something that can be overcome alone, and early intervention is critical for successful treatment.

In Destin, the caring and professional clinicians at The Crane Center have experience treating all types of eating disorders. We understand how personal and complicated these disorders can be, and we work with each patient to determine the best course of treatment. In order to fully support our patients, we utilize a wide array of resources, both traditional and alternative. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please call our office or go online to schedule an appointment. 

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