1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Treatment Strategies for Eating Disorders


Updated July 23, 2006

Treatment Strategies for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can be treated and sufferers can return to a healthy weight. The sooner these disorders are diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome will likely be.

Eating disorders are complex, and treating them involves development of a comprehensive plan that involves medical care and monitoring, psychological support and interventions, nutritional counseling, and, when necessary, medication.

People with eating disorders often do not recognize or admit that they are ill. As a result, they may strongly resist getting and staying in treatment.

Family members and trusted friends individuals can be helpful in ensuring that the person with an eating disorder receives needed treatment and rehabilitation. For some people, treatment may be long term.

Anorexia Treatment

Treatment of anorexia requires a specific program that involves three main phases:

  1. restoring weight that has been lost to severe dieting and purging
  2. treating any psychological disturbances, such as distortion of body image, low self-esteem, and interpersonal or emotional conflicts; and
  3. achieving long-term remission and rehabilitation, or full recovery.
Early diagnosis and treatment definitely increases the treatment success rate.

Use of medications in people with anorexia is usually considered only after the patient has started to regain weight. Certain antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been shown to be helpful for weight maintenance and for dealing with mood and anxiety symptoms experienced by anorexia patients.

For patients who have had severe weight loss, initial treatment is often in an inpatient hospital setting, where feeding plans can help deal with the patient's medical and nutritional needs. In some cases, intravenous feeding (IV) is recommended.

Once the malnutrition has been addressed, and weight gain begins, psychotherapy (often cognitive-behavioral or one-on-one and group psychotherapy) can help people with anorexia overcome low self-esteem and address distorted thought and behavior patterns. Families are sometimes included in the therapy.

Bulimina and Binge-Eating Disorders Treatment

The primary goal when treating bulimia is to cut down on or even eliminate the binge eating and purging. Treatment, therefore, involves nutritional counseling, psychological support, and medication management.

Patients establish a pattern of eating regular, non-binge meals, and therapy focuses on improvement attitudes related to the eating disorder, encouragement of healthy but not excessive exercise, and resolution of other conditions such as mood or anxiety disorders. Individual psychotherapy (especially cognitive-behavioral or interpersonal psychotherapy), group psychotherapy that uses a cognitive-behavioral approach, and family or marital therapy have been reported to be effective.

Antidepressants such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been found helpful for people with bulimia, especially those who have depression or anxiety, or who don't respond to therapy alone. These medications also may help prevent relapse.

The treatment goals and strategies for binge-eating disorder are similar to those for bulimia, and studies are currently evaluating the effectiveness of various interventions.


Find out more about the specific types of eating disorders and treatments now:

Source: National Institute of Mental Health. Eating Disorders: Facts About Eating Disorders and the Search for SolutionsNIH Publication No. 01-4901.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.