How to Determine if Inpatient or Residential Anorexia Treatment is Necessary?

Contributor: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC. Founder of Eating Disorder Hope

Anorexia Nervosa, the most deadly of all eating disorders, has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness {1}. With these figures in mind, it is crucial that those who suffer from this debilitating disease receive expert care and as early of intervention as possible.

Human life: invaluable and irreplaceable, is at stake whenever someone is struggling with anorexia.

Previous clients of mine have struggled with varying degrees of anorexia nervosa symptoms and effects. While working with these precious people, I found that almost nobody wanted to go to a higher level of care. Independence is valued by all of us, and no less by those engaged in a life and death struggle with anorexia.

Seeking the Highest Level of Care Possible

However, once a life is endangered, it makes sense to seek the highest level of care needed to preserve life! It may be helpful for the sufferer to consider that taking one step back (into more intensive treatment) will likely launch them two steps forward (greater recovery and health).

Hence, short term sacrifice is needed for long term gain. This common sense approach might provide the insight ad hope needed to make this crucial decision that is so frightening for many.

Determining If Inpatient Care Is Needed

Some basic rules of thumb for determining if inpatient treatment for Anorexia is needed include:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Physical complications worsen or are life threatening
  • Lab findings suggest acute risk

Residential care may be the best fit for the anorexia sufferer who experiences:

  • Lack of recovery progress with lower levels of care, such as outpatient, intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization treatment
  • Psychological impairment
  • No life threatening physical complications {2}

The decision to proceed with going away from the comforts of home to seek recovery from Anorexia Nervosa is a monumental one! It is completely normal to feel a myriad of emotions: hope, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, etc.

Know that the sufferer will likely be all over the board as they carefully weigh the pros and cons of residential or inpatient treatment for their eating disorder.

Acting Quickly and Efficiently

eye-278148_640Once it is determined that the greater level of care is needed, it is important to act quickly to ensure the health and well-being of the anorexia sufferer. There are numerous sources for information on inpatient and residential treatment programs.

Top sources for treatment referral include:

  • Existing eating disorder treatment team’s recommendations
  • Eating Disorder Hope’s National Eating Disorder Treatment Directory
  • The National Eating Disorder Associations Treatment Directory (
  • The Academy of Eating Disorders Treatment Directory (

The next important step is to visit the websites and call the treatment centers that seem to be the best fit for you or your loved one. Ask questions and learn as much as you can about the facilities.

Some important factors to consider in narrowing down your possible choices are:

  • Proximity to home?
  • Insurance coverage?
  • Fit for the personality and needs of the anorexia sufferer?
  • Types of therapies and treatment offered?
  • Capacity to treat co-occurring disorders, if present?
  • Overall Quality of the treatment program?
  • Accreditation of the program?
  • Expertise of the staff?

Finally, be prepared to endure the stress of the transition to treatment and the inevitable accompanying anxiety this will create.

Making well thought out decisions regarding packing, travel plans, financial arrangements, visiting plans and more will help to make this important decision and action to pursue a higher level of care as smooth as possible.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What is your experience with deciding between inpatient and residential treatment, what were the deciding factors you used?


  1. Sullivan, P. (1995). American Journal of Psychiatry, 152 (7), 10731074.
  2. (n.d.). Retrieved December 23, 2015, from

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 1st, 2015
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