Eating disorders are a group of serious, related illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors and serious emotional and physical problems. A person with an eating disorder may not eat enough to stay healthy or may severely overeat. An obsession with food, body weight, and shape may be an indicator of an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Eating disorders often start in the teenage years and may occur along with depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. Women are more likely than men to have eating disorders. If a person is treated early, they have a better chance of a full recovery. Treatment might include talk therapy, nutritional counseling, and sometimes medicines.
Eating disorders can be treated by a wide range of mental health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses, and licensed professional counselors. You may need to visit with several different providers before you find the right match. A good relationship with your mental health provider will help you get the most out of your treatment.
You can use your health insurance plan’s directory to find a mental health provider in your network. If you have Medicare, you can use the Physician Compare directory from Medicare.gov to find a provider that accepts it. Other directories for specific types of providers are listed below.
A family physician is a general practitioner with additional specialty training and expertise in dealing with patients of all ages. Family physicians may provide both preventive care (routine checkups), as well as diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses. A family physician is often your first step in navigating the mental health system. They may make diagnoses, prescribe medication, or refer a patient to a mental health provider. Family physicians will coordinate your care with other subspecialists when needed. Use the American Board of Family Medicine to find a family physician.
Internal medicine specialists, also known as internists, focus on treating adult and adolescent medical disorders and provide long-term, comprehensive care. Internists are trained to treat the whole body, not just the internal organs, and they see patients for a variety of conditions and complaints. Internists often provide preventive medicine and patient education services. Use the American Board of Medical Specialties Certification Matters service to find a board certified internist near you. You must register first. Choose North Carolina as the state and “Internal Medicine” as the specialty
A psychiatrist specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Psychiatrists are uniquely qualified to understand the complex interrelation between mental and physical health since their training includes four years of medical school and at least three additional years in a psychiatric residency. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications. The North Carolina Psychiatric Association directory includes psychiatrists who have chosen to submit information about their practices. The North Carolina Medical Board directory lists psychiatrists licensed to practice in North Carolina. You can also search the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry directory for a psychiatrist who specializes in treating teens.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners
Providers who can provide counseling and support for Eating Disorders but cannot prescribe medicines
Psychologists have graduate-level training in psychology and either a Ph.D, or Psy.D (Doctor of Psychology). North Carolina allows limited practice with a Master of Psychology degree. The North Carolina Psychological Association maintains this directory of psychologists. You can search by gender, ages served, insurance accepted, languages spoken and more. Choose “Eating Disorders” from the “Issue” dropdown.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers
Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) can diagnose mental illnesses and be involved in direct therapy with patients in private practice or they might be part of a team conducting research for a university, hospital, or private organization. They sometimes work as case managers helping people solve problems and connecting them to various resources. Most LCSW programs require thousands of hours of direct clinical experience. In North Carolina, LCSWs must be licensed by the state. Use the HelpPRO Advanced Search to find a LCSW. Choose “Eating Disorders” from the “Specializes in this concern” dropdown and “Social Worker, Licensed Clinical” under the “Holds this credential, certification, or has completed training in” dropdown. This directory provides a good deal of information about individual LCSWs but does not include license status. To review a LCSW’s license, use the License Lookup from the North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board. Choose “Licensed Clinical Social Worker” from the “Certification” dropdown.
Licensed Professional Counselors
Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) have master’s degrees and are trained to work with individuals, families, and groups in treating mental, behavioral, and emotional problems and disorders, including eating disorders. In North Carolina, LPCs must be licensed by the state. To find a LPC near you, use this directory from the Licensed Professional Counselors Association of North Carolina. Choose “Eating Disorders” under the Primary Specialty or Area of Expertise dropdown. This directory provides a good deal of information about individual LPCs but does not include license status. To review a counselor’s license, use the License Verification Search Form from the North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors.
Clinical trials are research studies that examine whether a medical treatment or device is safe and effective for human beings. Many of the drugs and therapies available today are the result of clinical trials. To learn more, and to decide whether participating in a clinical trial is right for you, visit ClinicalTrials.gov, a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
To find a mental health facility or program, use the Mental Health Treatment Facility Locator from the US Department of Health and Human Services. This locator includes public, private (both for-profit and non-profit) and Department of Veterans Affairs’ facilities. Choose “Select Services” to specify treatment approach, insurance accepted, preferred language, age groups served and more.
Free and Discounted Services: There are a number of free and discounted services in North Carolina that you may qualify for, including free urgent care clinics and help with paying for your medications or health insurance. Check out our Free and Discounted Services page to learn more.
Support groups allow people to come together to share their stories, experiences, and lives. Talking with others who share your challenges can help you see that there are others who may dealing with similar situations and who may have helpful advice from their perspective as a patient or family member.
For information about support groups and education opportunities near you, consult the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) North Carolina chapter.
Psych Central is the Internet’s largest and oldest independent mental health social network. It is run by mental health professionals offering reliable, trusted information and over 250 support groups to consumers. Psych Central maintains a moderated online support group for patients with eating disorders and their families here.
Behavioral health crises can be serious but most do not require an evaluation at a hospital emergency department. Using other specialized crisis services, listed in the directory below, may help connect you more quickly to ongoing resources to support your recovery and avoid a lengthy emergency department visit.
North Carolina’s publicly funded crisis services—which may be used by anyone regardless of insurance status or ability to pay, can be found by using the NC Department of Health and Human Services directory, searchable by county.
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Page authored by UNC Health Sciences Library Staff.