Types of Treatment for Eating Disorders
There are almost as many types of treatment for eating disorders as there are types of eating disorders themselves. This is because different eating disorders require different approaches and the severity of the eating disorder may dictate the treatment method chosen. The key lies in finding the right type of eating disorder treatment that works best for the individual.
Help for anorexia and bulimia is generally available at medical care facilities, through private practitioners and through community or faith-based groups. Treatment types include:
- Acute, medical care, typically through a hospital
- Ongoing psychiatric care, possibly including medication
- Inpatient or outpatient programs, typically eating disorder specialized
- Nutritional counseling
- Psychological counseling
- Group therapy / Self-paced
Are you looking for eating disorder help? Discover where and how to get help for eating disorders.
Medical treatment for eating disorders, particularly acute, inpatient admission, is not generally required. The exception is when an eating disorder is so severe that the physical damage must be handled immediately, as in the case of an esophageal tear in a bulimic (bulimia side effects) or in the case of severe starvation in an anorexic (anorexia health problems).
Medical treatment of an eating disorder that includes prescription medication is needed more frequently. In this case, medications are prescribed, generally by a psychiatrist and may be intended to help treat the eating disorder itself or any possible co-occurring mental illnesses, such as depression, which is common in those with anorexia or bulimia.
Medications used in the treatment of eating disorders typically include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) - the preferred type of antidepressant; thought to help decrease the depressive symptoms often associated with some eating disorders. Eg. Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Tricyclics (TCAs) - another type of antidepressant thought to help with depression and body image. TCAs are generally only used if SSRIs treatments fail. Eg. Desipramine (Norpramin)
- Antiemetics - drugs specifically designed to suppress nausea or vomiting. Eg. Ondansetron (Zofran)
Inpatient and Outpatient Eating Disorders Treatment
The type of program that is chosen depends on the severity and duration of the eating disorder. For those with a severe, long-standing eating disorder, inpatient treatment may be required. Inpatient care is full-time and generally done in an eating disorder treatment center or in a dedicated wing of a hospital. The focus of this type of treatment is on creating new and healthy patterns in a person's life while educating them about eating disorders and delving into why the patient's eating disorder developed in the first place.
Outpatient treatments for anorexia or bulimia are similar to inpatient care, but are only provided during the day. Outpatient (or daytime) eating disorder treatment is most appropriate for those who have a safe and supportive home to go to each night.
Learn more about eating disorder treatment centers.
Psychological and Nutritional Counseling
Eating disorders are mental illnesses and so, like any other mental illness, treatment for eating disorders often includes psychological counseling. This type of therapy for eating disorders may focus on building life or psychological skills, or analyzing the cause of the eating disorder. Types of counseling used include:
- Talk therapy - for psychological issues behind the eating disorder
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) - to challenge the thought patterns and actions surrounding eating behaviors
- Group therapy - professionally-led group therapy can be used as part of CBT, as support and as a learning environment
Nutritional counseling may be used in conjunction with any of the other treatments - either initially or on an ongoing basis.
In-depth information on types and benefits of eating disorders therapy
Group Therapy / Self-Paced Treatments for Eating Disorders
Support groups and self-paced therapies can also be part of successful eating disorder treatment. Support groups may contain a mental health professional, but are often run by peers. Some groups are part of a structured treatment program, while others are more supportive in nature. Support groups can help a person get through treatment by meeting others who personally understand eating issues.
Find out about eating disorders support groups and where to find them.
Last Updated: 13 May 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD