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Eating disorders: why mental health nurses’ role in recovery is crucial

Nurses are perfectly positioned to help and support people with eating disorders, says a leading expert in the field
Illustration of a woman with an eating disorder

Nurses are perfectly positioned to help and support people with eating disorders, says a leading expert in the field

Mental health nurses are a crucial support for inpatients and day patients recovering from eating disorders, treatment for which involves monitoring physical and psychological health.

At Nightingale Hospital , an independent care provider delivering specialist treatment in general psychiatry, addictions and eating disorders in London, I am fortunate to work with fantastic teams of such nurses, as well as psychiatrists, dietitians and other therapists.

Patients in eating disorder units are often frail and physically unwell, but mental health nurses are perfectly positioned to care for their physical needs from monitoring electrolyte

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Nurses are perfectly positioned to help and support people with eating disorders, says a leading expert in the field


Mealtimes can be extremely difficult for patients, so supervising meals requires skill
and dedication Picture: iStock

Mental health nurses are a crucial support for inpatients and day patients recovering from eating disorders, treatment for which involves monitoring physical and psychological health.

At Nightingale Hospital, an independent care provider delivering specialist treatment in general psychiatry, addictions and eating disorders in London, I am fortunate to work with fantastic teams of such nurses, as well as psychiatrists, dietitians and other therapists.

Patients in eating disorder units are often frail and physically unwell, but mental health nurses are perfectly positioned to care for their physical needs – from monitoring electrolyte levels and undertaking regular patient observations to assessing risk.

An important part of treatment for an eating disorder involves helping patients to manage prescribed meals. Mealtimes can be extremely difficult for patients, so supervising meals requires skill and dedication.

Nurses supervise patients to stop them engaging in negative behaviours

Mental health nurses have to manage the delicate balance of being firm with patients to ensure physical needs are met while being supportive and encouraging.

RCNi eating disorders resource collection

In addition, there are often competing demands from patients at the same table: some find it helpful to be told they are doing well, while others find this difficult to hear; some like to be distracted and talk about trivial matters, whereas others prefer to eat in silence. 

‘Recovery is not just about restoring weight, but also about exploring the function of an eating disorder and learning to identify, tolerate and express feelings’

The period after mealtimes can often also be challenging for patients as they may struggle with feelings of guilt and experience urges to vomit. During this time, nurses supervise patients to stop them engaging in negative behaviours and to help them process and manage difficult feelings. 

Building non-judgemental therapeutic relationships

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses in which patients use food in various ways to cope with difficult feelings. Recovery is not just about restoring weight, but also about exploring the function of an eating disorder and learning to identify, tolerate and express feelings.

Nurses help patients to do this by building non-judgmental therapeutic relationships. They can also develop positive relationships with patients’ loved ones by offering support and education about eating disorders, which can aid recovery.

As part of a multidisciplinary team, mental health nurses play a vital and valued role in caring for the physical, emotional and social well-being of patients with eating disorders.

I have seen first-hand how nurses work closely with patients and colleagues to share successes, but also to support each other. It is a privilege working with them.


Find out more

Beat Eating Disorders


Joanna Silver is lead therapist for eating disorders at Nightingale Hospital, an independent mental health hospital in London

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