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Health Information

Treatments for Eating Disorders

People with eating disorders often do not recognize or admit that they are ill. As a result, they may resist starting and staying in treatment. Family members or other trusted people can help to ensure that the person with an eating disorder receives needed care and rehabilitation. For some people, treatment may be long term.

Eating disorders can be successfully treated and a healthy weight restored. The sooner your disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcomes are likely to be. Because of their complexity, eating disorders require a comprehensive treatment plan. Treatment involves medical care and monitoring, psychosocial interventions, nutrition counseling, and, when appropriate, medication management.

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

  • Restoring you to a healthy weight and keeping you there
  • Treating psychological disturbances, such as distortion of body image, low self-esteem, and interpersonal conflicts
  • Achieving long-term remission and rehabilitation or full recovery

Early diagnosis and treatment increase your chances of a positive outcome. Your doctor may consider prescribing medicine for you. However, it may be started only after you have gained an appropriate amount of weight. A healthy weight is above 85%, but not necessarily as high as 100%, of your ideal weight. To achieve this weight, your intake of calories will be gradually increased.

If your weight loss is severe, care will likely be provided in an inpatient hospital setting in order to treat serious or life-threatening physical conditions. In a hospital, doctors will develop feeding plans to address your medical and nutrition needs. In some cases, a feeding tube may be recommended. After malnutrition has been corrected and weight gain has begun, you may receive psychotherapy—often cognitive behavioral or interpersonal psychotherapy—to help you overcome low self-esteem and address distorted thought and behavior patterns. Families are often included in the therapeutic process.

General Treatment Guidelines for Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder

The primary goals of treatment for bulimia are to:

  • Stop binging
  • Stop purging—in the case of bulimia
  • Provide education about healthy eating habits and nutrition
  • Focus self-esteem away from body image and shape

Bulimia and binge eating disorder are treated with nutrition rehabilitation, psychosocial intervention, and medication management strategies. Treatment is generally done on an outpatient basis. Treatment includes establishing a pattern of regular, nonbinge meals, improving your attitude related to the eating disorder, and encouraging regular but not excessive exercise. Any co-occurring conditions, such as mood or anxiety disorders , should be treated as well. You may also benefit from family or marital therapy.

Treatment of eating disorders involves the following:

Lifestyle changesMedicationsAlternative and complementary therapiesOther treatments

Currently, there are no surgical options for the treatment of eating disorders.

Revision Information

  • Eating disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/index.shtml . Updated 2011. Accessed July 11, 2013.

  • Williams P, Goodie J, et al. Treating eating disorders in primary care. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Jan 15;77(2):187-95. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2008/0115/p187.html . Accessed July 11, 2013.

  • Yager J, Devlin MJ, et al. Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Eating Disorders. 3rd ed. American Psychiatric Association; 2006. Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=9318 . Accessed July 11, 2013.