FREED & Early Intervention in Eating Disorders

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First Episode Rapid Intervention for Eating Disorders (FREED) is a treatment model that was developed in the United Kingdom [1]. This approach is unique because it aims to provide treatment quickly to people age 16 to 25 who have had their eating disorder for less than three years [1].

This is different than the traditional approach. Usually, treatment isn’t based on how long someone has had their eating disorder but is determined by what type of eating disorder someone has and how severe it is.

The FREED model also is different than traditional treatment methods because it focuses on a specific age group. Eating disorders typically begin during the late teen years and early adulthood [1]. FREED clinicians focus on serving this age group and shape treatment to the special needs that people this age tend to have.

There are five core pieces to FREED that researchers believe have made it so effective [1]. These are:

Rapid Access to Eating Disorder Treatment in FREED

The FREED model aims to have individuals begin treatment within four weeks of being referred [1]. During these four weeks, people would complete their assessment and begin building relationships with the treatment providers. In a study looking at how effective the FREED model is, individuals receiving this treatment said that beginning treatment early was helpful for a few reasons.

One of these reasons was that it prevented the disordered behaviors and thoughts from becoming more habitual. Essentially, there was less time for the eating disorder to take hold. Another reason that people found early intervention to be helpful is because it helped reduce the amount of physical damage [1].

Also, beginning treatment quickly when someone is motivated to change is helpful. It is common for people with eating disorders to not want to change their behaviors. Whether this is because they are in denial about them or because they don’t want to change, motivation is needed for change [2]. Quickly responding helps catch people when they are motivated, rather than trying to help convince them to change.

FREED Uses Eating Disorder Informed Clinicians

The FREED model uses therapists and other clinicians who are knowledgeable about eating disorders. Eating disorders are complex diagnoses and require specialized training to know how to treat them.

People receiving FREED treatment reported that because the clinicians were well informed on these disorders, they felt understood and cared for [1]. Individuals feeling understood and cared for by their treatment provider is shown to be helpful in recovery [1].

Building a Support Network

African American woman working with the FREED approach to eating disordersSupport from others is super important during recovery [2]. Everyone going through recovery needs this. The FREED model includes this in the treatment process by encouraging clients to bring family or friends to sessions [1]. FREED clinicians also recommend that clients give their family and friends resources to learn about eating disorders [1].

While many programs may also include family or friends, not all programs do [1]. A support system can be helpful in providing encouragement, comfort, and accountability during difficult phases of recovery.

Focus on Life Beyond the Eating Disorder

FREED clinicians don’t just focus on disordered behaviors. They also focus on other aspects of the individual’s life, such as each person’s hopes and dreams for their future. Research shows that this focus helps increase motivation because eating disorders can get in the way of someone’s goals [1]. This is also helpful because it provides a sense of hope that there can be more to someone’s life than their struggle with an eating disorder.

Becoming Your Own Therapist

The FREED model teaches clients how to monitor their own behaviors once they were further along in the recovery process. Clinicians taught clients skills and tools they can use to help themselves with difficult emotions or triggers without relying on their eating disorder to cope.

This led people to feel empowered and prepared to keep progressing in their recovery [1].
These five core aspects of the FREED model were shown to help people make progress and maintain their recovery [1].


[1] Potterton, R., Austin, A., Flynn, M., Allen, K., Lawrence, V., Mountford, V., Glennon, D., Grant, N., Brown, A., Franklin-Smith, M., Schelhase, M., Rhys Jones, W., Brady, G., Nunes, N., Conan, F., Mahony, K., Seriell, L., & Schmidt, U. (2021). “I’m truly free from my eating disorder”: Emerging adults’ experience of FREED, an early intervention service model and care pathway for eating disorders. Journal of Eating Disorders, 9(3), 1-14.

[2] Costin, C., & Schubert Grabb, G. (2012) 8 keys to recovery from an eating disorder. W.W. Norton & Company.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha 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.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on 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 February 16, 2021, on
Reviewed & Approved on February 16, 2021, 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.