Can Anorexia Be Cured Without Treatment?

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Anorexia nervosa is one of the deadliest mental health conditions. [1] Anorexia can wreak havoc on someone’s physical and emotional health. Finding ways to recover from this eating disorder is crucial.

You may feel embarrassed about needing help or not know how to find treatment. This can lead you to wonder if you can recover without treatment. It’s impossible to say whether it’s possible to recover without treatment.

There isn’t currently research that examines the effectiveness of recovering from anorexia without professional treatment. However, research shows that anorexia is incredibly hard to recover from even with treatment. [2]

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. In order to avoid this, people with anorexia will severely restrict their food intake. This leads to becoming severely underweight.

Despite being underweight, people with anorexia may view themselves as being at a normal weight or weighing too much. This can make it difficult for someone to want to change their behaviors, even if they need to for their health.

What is a Common Barrier to Anorexia Recovery?

One of the most common obstacles to recovery is a lack of motivation or willingness to change. [3] Sometimes a key focus of treatment is improving insight into the problem.

If you are able to understand and accept that there is a problem, you may be more willing to fix it. Treatment professionals often support people in treatment through motivation-enhancement techniques. [3]

Motivation for recovery is a key factor in being able to recover. [3] There are stages of change that each person goes through during eating disorder recovery. The stages of change are: [4]

  • Pre-contemplation: In this stage, someone with anorexia may deny that they have a problem.
  • Contemplation: At this point, someone will have some idea that they have a problem. They may feel conflicted about whether they want to change or not.
  • Preparation: In the preparation stage, someone with anorexia has decided they want to change and is preparing to make these changes. There can still be some ambivalence.
  • Action: This phase is about making steps towards treatment and recovery.
  • Maintenance: This phase is about maintaining the positive changes someone has made towards their recovery.

Eating disorder treatment professionals can help people through each phase in order to help them achieve their treatment goals.

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Why is it Important to Get Treatment for an Eating Disorder?

Recovering from anorexia without support can be dangerous. [5] Depending on how much you have restricted your food intake, support from a medical provider or registered dietitian may be required in order to make sure it’s done safely.

Increasing food intake after being malnourished can result in a potentially deadly condition known as Refeeding syndrome. [5] Medical supervision can ensure that the weight restoration process is done safely.

Medical care during anorexia recovery may also be necessary for other reasons. Anorexia can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health. Some possible health consequences are: [6]

  • Thinning of the bones
  • Mild anemia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dry and yellowish skin
  • Constipation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing and pulse
  • Damage to the structure and function of the heart
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Infertility
  • Brain damage
  • Multiple organ failure

Treating these symptoms is important for someone’s overall recovery. In addition, just like other mental health conditions, anorexia can interfere with someone’s ability to participate in work, school, and social activities. Recovering from anorexia can help someone restore their physical health and improve their overall quality of life.

Treatment Options for Anorexia

Research shows there are effective treatment methods for anorexia. [2] Treatment depends on how severe your eating disorder is. There are different levels of care for anorexia. These are:

  • Hospitalization
  • Inpatient Rehab
  • Intensive Outpatient
  • Outpatient

There are certain treatment approaches that can be integrated into each level of care. Research shows there are certain therapy methods that are effective for treating anorexia. These are: [2]

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a treatment approach that aims to help people change their behaviors by changing the way they think. Changing disordered thoughts related to food and body image can help people change their disordered eating behaviors
  • Interpersonal-Psychotherapy (IPT): IPT helps improve relationships and focuses on fixing the relationship issues that can contribute to disordered eating

Recovery from anorexia is difficult, but possible.

Resources: 

[1] Yahalom, M., Spitz, M., Sandler, L., Heno, N., Roguin, N., & Turgeman, Y. (2013) The significance of bradycardia in anorexia nervosa. The international journal of angiology: Official publication of the international college of angiology, inc., 22(2), 83-94.

[2] Kass, A.E., Kolko, R.P., & Willey, D.E. (2013) Psychological treatments for eating disorders. Current opinion in psychiatry, 26(6), 549-555.

[3] Carter, O., Byrne, S., Allen, K., & Fursland, A. (2014) Readiness and motivation to change in the treatment of adults with anorexia nervosa: A case series. Journal of Eating Disorders, 2, 1.

[4] National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (n.d) Stages of Change. Retrieved February 25th, 2022 from https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/treatment-and-recovery/stages-of-change/

[5] National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d). Eating Disorders: About More Than Food. Retrieved February 25th, 2022 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders

[6] Mehanna, H.M., Moledina, J., & Travis, J. (2008) Refeeding syndrome: What it is, and how to prevent and treat is. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 336(7659), 1495-1498.


About Our Sponsor:

EDS Woman Counselor - 468x60At Eating Disorder Solutions, compassion is at the root of everything we do. We understand that eating disorders are complex, deeply rooted mental health and medical conditions which require personalized treatment for a successful recovery. By integrating behavioral health modalities and clinical interventions, we endeavor to address disordered eating at its source.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on March 3, 2022. Published on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on March 3, 2022, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

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About Samantha Bothwell, LMFT

Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.