Signs That Someone May Need Partial Hospitalization or Intensive Outpatient Programming

Flowers in the Field

Contributor: Staff at Montecatini Eating Disorder Treatment Center

Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, genders, and body types. According to one report, 28.8 million Americans, or 9% of the U.S. population, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime [1]. Luckily, there are many effective options when it comes to eating disorder treatment, ranging from residential care to outpatient services. Partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs are just a couple of treatment options individuals can choose for help on their eating disorder recovery journey.

Common Signs of an Eating Disorder

The signs of eating disorders can be difficult to detect and can manifest in a variety of ways depending on the person and the specific disorder. An eating disorder can affect someone both mentally and physically, and getting treatment at the first warning signs is key to avoiding dangerous long-term consequences.

Some of the most common early symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • Dramatic weight fluctuation
  • Obsessions over appearance, weight, and food
  • Overexercising
  • Restricting calories
  • Eating or exercising in secret
  • Hiding food
  • Feeling a lack of control with food
  • Abusing dieting pills or laxatives

Someone who struggles with an eating disorder that is left untreated may face medical complications such as irregular menstruation, bruising, fainting, chest pain, and digestion problems. Eating disorders have one of the highest death rates among mental health disorders, making it that much more important to receive prompt treatment [2].

Eating Disorder Treatment Options

Deciding to seek treatment for an eating disorder can be difficult and anxiety-provoking. However, receiving help is often lifesaving.

When it comes to eating disorders, the right treatment option will depend on the specific disorder present, any co-occurring mental health disorders, and the individual’s unique concerns, background, and goals.



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For those who require the most support and can benefit from 24-hour assistance, a residential program may offer the most effective care. However, not everyone who has an eating disorder will require this level of treatment.

Outpatient options include a partial hospitalization program (PHP) and an intensive outpatient program (IOP). These programs might benefit someone who is displaying the first signs of an eating disorder or has completed a higher level of care, such as residential programming.

After completing a PHP or IOP, individuals may be ready for traditional outpatient services, or they might begin a different level of care.

The Difference Between PHP and IOP

A partial hospitalization program and an intensive outpatient program have a lot in common. Both a PHP and an IOP involve several hours of therapy each day, several days a week, and allow patients to return home in the evenings or when not in counseling sessions. Both of these outpatient programs typically include individual therapy sessions as needed and group therapy sessions each treatment day.

Group therapy is an essential part of a PHP and an IOP, allowing patients to find support from others who share similar concerns. Groups meet to discuss and learn about a variety of eating disorder topics, such as nutrition, self-esteem, healthy meal planning, exercising in moderation, coping skills, and emotion regulation.

Despite their similarities, a PHP and an IOP aren’t the same program. A PHP involves more hours of therapy each day for more days each week than an IOP. Someone may begin a PHP after completing a higher level of care or as a step-up from an IOP. Someone might begin an IOP if they are getting ready to transition out of eating disorder treatment and back to their regular daily life, or if they have needs that require a level of care that is more intensive than traditional outpatient services.

Summer Flowers

When a Higher Level of Care May Help

Outpatient programs like a PHP and an IOP aren’t for every individual. Some may initially benefit more from a higher level of care such as residential. In residential programming, individuals receive 24-hour support and monitoring along with a personalized therapy schedule. This level of care may be necessary to help someone achieve stabilization before they transition to a PHP or IOP.

Signs that someone may benefit from a higher level of care for their eating disorder symptoms include:

  • Other mental health concerns such as self-harm
  • Symptoms of malnourishment
  • Other physical symptoms of eating disorders that do not require hospitalization
  • Difficulty maintaining recovery in other, lower levels of care

Recognizing the signs of an eating disorder is the first step in receiving treatment. A mental health professional can help you determine which level of care is right for you so that you can work toward long-term recovery.


[1] Harvard. (2018). Report: Economic costs of eating disorders. Harvard T.H. Chan.

[2] Goldman, R. (2020, August 27). Why intervention is necessary to prevent eating disorder deaths. Verywell Mind.

About Montecatini

Montecatini BannerMontecatini provides comprehensive treatment for women who are struggling with eating disorders and co-occurring mental health concerns. We provide a full continuum of life-changing care, including residential treatment, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), and an intensive outpatient program (IOP). We also offer a wellness center where clients can build healthier relationships with their bodies through joyful movement.

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 November 12, 2021, on
Reviewed & Approved on November 12, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC