What Providers Treat Eating Disorders?

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Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

It’s difficult to know where to first seek treatment when you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder. Factors such as age, background, medical history, and the severity of the eating disorder symptoms all determine what type of treatment you may need. The process can seem daunting at first, but with the right support network and providers, you can begin your treatment journey.

Primary Care Doctors as Providers

While primary care doctors are important for your overall physical health, they should not be the sole treatment provider for an eating disorder. Primary care physicians can be your first point of contact in the medical world, where you first relay the symptoms you are experiencing. They will need to be kept up to date in order to provide you with the best care once you’re finished with initial treatment.

Keeping your primary care provider informed throughout the process is imperative, but they will not be able to treat the eating disorder. Consider looking into providers who specifically mention eating disorders. A psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, and nutritionist are all important contacts for receiving comprehensive treatment.


If the person affected is a child, having a pediatrician on-hand is an absolute must. Children and adolescents experience different reactions to and symptoms of eating disorders than adults do. Pediatricians are more in-tune with these differences. As medical treatment providers, they will also have more connections with child-focused care settings like hospitals, partial hospitalization programs, and other treatment options.

Psychologists & Psychiatrists

Despite having similar-sounding names, psychologists and psychiatrists are two very different types of providers.

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Psychologists go through schooling and graduate with PhDs. These providers tend to study things like mental development and personalities. Psychologists’ work involves counseling as they focus on addressing behaviors and analyzing life experiences.

Psychologists monitor behavior and how that behavior impacts your mental well-being. However, psychologists usually cannot prescribe medications (some exceptions exist according to the state you live in). A psychologist will listen as you discuss your symptoms and be able to provide you with an initial diagnosis, but you will need to see a psychiatrist for prescriptions if medication is necessary to alleviate your symptoms.

Psychiatrists go to medical school. After graduating, they go through a residency of around four years in psychiatry. There, they prescribe medications and monitor patients’ well-being. A psychiatrist will talk to you about what to expect when you first go on medication, including mental health benefits and possible physical side effects. A psychiatrist’s visit is often quicker than a psychologist because their main goal is to prescribe you with the necessary medication.

Both psychologists and psychiatrists are crucial for those suffering from an eating disorder. People often need both to achieve a long-lasting and successful recovery.

Dietitians & Nutritionists

Both dietitians and nutritionists work toward improving people’s relationships with food. Dietitians, in general, are more medically regulated. They must attend and graduate from a four-year school. A

fter that, they complete an internship and a national exam before beginning their practice. Nutritionists do not have the same level of requirements to practice as dietitians have. Still, life experiences can make nutritionists a vital part of the eating disorder recovery team.

Regardless of which route you choose, make sure that your dietitian or nutritionist has a background in working with disordered eating. They should be able to help create a meal plan that is easy to stick to, and help you navigate any potential roadblocks you encounter along the way.

Social Workers

There are many different focuses social workers can have. Regardless of the field, social workers can provide therapy, connect people with community resources, and help advocate for their clients when needed. You might not absolutely need a social worker on your team. If you can get one, though, you will benefit from their training, experience, and resources.

Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists

Woman thinking about which Providers are best for herMany who struggle with an eating disorder also struggle to repair the damage the eating disorder has done to their body. Depending on how long you or your loved one has suffered from an eating disorder, muscle mass may be impacted, leaving people weak and atrophied.

Physical therapists help rebuild the body. On the other hand, occupational therapists work with people on daily life skills in addition to movement and mobility.

Providers Treating Comorbidities

For special cases, when someone is already dealing with other health issues like diabetes, other healthcare providers should be involved in treatment. For example, if someone is dealing with diabulimia, an endocrinologist must be involved to manage the diabetes. Other comorbidities can benefit from additional care providers as well. These include chronic pain, autoimmune conditions, and cardiology concerns.

Follow-Up Care with Providers

Depending on the type of damage an eating disorder has done to the body, other healthcare providers may be necessary for continuing care once intensive treatment has come to an end. Disordered eating can affect any part of the body, from hormones, to organs, to skin, and beyond. Naturally, this means any healthcare provider may be needed. Commonly involved providers include cardiologists, hepatologists, neurologists, and gastroenterologists.

About Our Sponsor:

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At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center outside of Chicago, Illinois, we provide specialized care for women and adolescent girls who are living with eating disorders, substance use disorders, and various mental health concerns. Our residential treatment and partial hospitalization programming (PHP) help our residents achieve lifelong recovery by combining clinically excellent treatment with spiritual and emotional growth. We provide care that is holistic, personalized, and nurturing, empowering women to be active participants in their wellness journeys.

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 September 22, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on September 22, 2020, 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.