The Maudsley Approach. For adolescent and other younger patients in the early stages of anorexia nervosa, the Maudsley approach to “refeeding” may be effective. The Maudsley approach is a type of family therapy that enlists the family as a central player in the patient’s nutritional recovery. Parents take charge of planning and supervising all of the patient’s meals and snacks. As recovery progresses, the patient gradually takes on more personal responsibility for determining when and how much to eat. Weekly family meetings and family-based counseling are also part of this therapeutic approach.
The Role of Exercise in Recovery
The role of exercise in recovery is complex, since, for those with anorexia, excessive exercise is often a component of the original disorder. However, very controlled exercise regimens may be used as both a reward for developing good eating habits and as a way to reduce the stomach and intestinal distress that accompanies recovery. Exercise should not be performed if severe medical problems still exist and if the patient has not gained significant weight. The goal of exercise should be on improving physical fitness and health, not on burning off calories.
Psychologic Approaches and Medications for Patients with Anorexia Nervosa
Psychotherapy. Family therapy is an important component of anorexia treatment, especially for children and adolescents. Adults usually begin with motivational psychotherapy that provides an empathetic setting and rewards positive efforts towards weight gain. After weight is restored, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques may be helpful.
Antidepressants. Studies have not reported benefits for treating anorexia nervosa with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the antidepressants that are often useful for patients with bulimia. A few studies suggest that these drugs could be useful for people with anorexia nervosa who also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Nutritional Supplements. Calcium and vitamin D supplements are often recommended. Some studies have reported that zinc supplements may help patients gain weight.
Review Date: 02/18/2011
Reviewed By: David B. Merrill, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital; and David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.