Why Early Intervention in Eating Disorders is Important

Couple walking while discussing his Eating Disorder Struggle

Research on eating disorder treatments indicates that early intervention in eating disorder behaviors (that is, early identification and treatment of an eating disorder) improves the speed of recovery, reduces symptoms to a greater extent, and improves the likelihood of long-term recovery.

For example, when adolescents with anorexia nervosa are given family-based treatment within the first three years of the illness onset, they have a much greater likelihood of recovery. [1, 5, 6, 7].

Early intervention allows for any medical concerns caused by the disorder to be addressed before they are exacerbated by the disorder. It also allows the struggling individual to work on reducing or eliminating eating disordered behaviors; address co-occurring issues like depression, anxiety, or trauma; and then develop a plan to prevent relapse. [1, 2]

While treatment is more effective before the disorder becomes chronic, those struggling with long-standing eating disorders can and do recover. For example, one study showed that those who received treatment within the first 5 years of struggling with bulimia had a recovery rate of 80%. While those who waited more than 15 years after their symptoms began to get treatment, experienced recovery rates closer to 20%. [1, 4]

Woman thinks about early intervention in eating disorder treatmentRegardless of their duration, eating disorders can have both physiological and psychological impacts.

Therefore, adequate treatment addresses the eating disorder symptoms and medical consequences, as well as psychological, biological, interpersonal, and cultural forces that contribute to or maintain the eating disorder. [1]

Early detection, initial evaluation, and effective treatment are important steps that can help an eating disorder sufferer move into recovery more quickly, preventing the disorder from progressing to a more severe or chronic state. Receiving appropriate treatment is the first step towards recovery. [3]


[1] National Eating Disorder Association. Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/treatment on Sept 30, 2019.

[2] National Eating Disorder Association. Recovery and relapse. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/recovery on Sept 30, 2019.

[3] National Eating Disorder Association. Evaluation and diagnosis. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/evaluation-and-diagnosis on Sept 30, 2019.

[4] Reas, D. L., Williamson, D. A., Martin, C. K. and Zucker, N. L. (2000), Duration of illness predicts outcome for bulimia nervosa: A long‐term follow‐up study. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 27: 428-434. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1098-108X(200005)27:4<428::AID-EAT7>3.0.CO;2-Y

[5] National Eating Disorder Association. Why Early Intervention for Eating Disorders is Essential. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/why-early-intervention-eating-disorders-essential on Sept 30, 2019.

[6] Lock, J, Agras, WS, Bryson, S, & Kraemer, HC. (2005). A Comparison of Short- and Long-Term Family Therapy for Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 44(7), 632 – 639. doi:

[7] Treasure, J., & Russell, G. (2011). The case for early intervention in anorexia nervosa: Theoretical exploration of maintaining factors. British Journal of Psychiatry, 199(1), 5-7. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.110.087585

About the Author:

Chelsea Fielder-JenksChelsea Fielder-Jenks is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Austin, Texas. Chelsea works with individuals, families, and groups primarily from a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) framework.

She has extensive experience working with adolescents, families, and adults who struggle with eating, substance use, and various co-occurring mental health disorders. You can learn more about Chelsea and her private practice at ThriveCounselingAustin.com.

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 October 3, 2019,  on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on October 3, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.