An eating disorder can make your loved one feel like they aren’t their normal selves. The journey to feeling like yourself again will look different for each person because eating disorders affect everyone differently.

There are many options available to help manage eating disorders with first-line treatments being psychological therapies.

If the first step doesn’t help, your doctor may suggest one or a combination of things to try, including medicines.

To better inform your decision it can be useful to ask these five questions* when navigating new treatment:

1. Do I really need this treatment?

Addressing the physical side of eating disorders is only one piece of the puzzle. Eating disorders are a mental health issue so it is paramount that the psychological aspect is prioritised.

Navigating the world of medicines can be overwhelming for people with eating disorders and their carers. There are many reasons a doctor may suggest a certain type of medicine. These may include:

    • The type of eating disorder that the person has.

    • The age of the person.

    • Other conditions they may be experiencing like depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges.

    • Their overall health and acute medical needs.

    • What medicines have been trialled before and if they were useful and/or well tolerated.

The important thing to remember is that the approach to treatment should always be a shared decision between the doctor, the person with an eating disorder, and the family or carers.

2. What are the risks?

All medicines have a risk of side effects. This is useful to consider as it may help start a conversation around how acceptable this is to the person and ways to minimise them. This might be by taking the medicine at certain times of the day or slowly increasing the dose under the guidance of the doctor.

3. Are there simpler, safer options?

It’s good to consider non-medicine options as well. These include psychological therapies (if not already tried), ensuring adequate social support, and encouraging activities that may be enjoyable for the person – this may be something as simple as listening to relaxing music or more formal like an art class. It is useful to think of these as tools in your toolbox – each of these may not fix every situation, but they do give you a variety of ways to support the person as they face different challenges.

4. What if I do nothing?

The situation may get worse – or better if you don’t commence treatment. This needs to be considered for each individual, depending on the stage of their journey.

5. What are the costs? 

Costs can include the financial cost of the medicine, the emotional cost of supporting someone through treatment trials, or the cost of your time. These apply to medicine and non-medicine interventions.

Asking questions is a powerful way to make sure the person’s doctor has considered all aspects of someone’s care, including personal preferences. Families and carers should feel empowered to start these conversations with their health care professionals and advocate for their loved one.

*Adapted from Choosing Wisely Australia’s 5 questions