Eating Disorder Treatment & Eating Disorder Therapies

The severity of the eating disorder and any co-occurring disorders will determine the initial treatment level you or your loved one should pursue. However, beginning with outpatient care is typical.

Health professionals working in outpatient centers can determine if a higher level of care is needed for specific eating disorders and refer them as necessary.

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    The following are the typical levels and types of eating disorder treatment:

    Levels & Types of Treatment for Eating Disorders

    Different treatments are available depending on your specific situation and eating disorder. Eating disorders treated at these levels include everything from anorexia nervosa to binge eating disorder.

    Outpatient Eating Disorders Treatment

    This treatment is the least restrictive level of care for those with eating disorders. As part of an outpatient program, you may see a nutritionist, therapist, and other recovery professionals approximately two to three times per week.

    This level of care can be helpful if you need to continue to work or attend school. Outpatient treatment is also desirable if you do not have the right health insurance to cover higher levels of care but are looking for assistance to stay in recovery.

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    Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) Eating Disorders Treatment

    An IOP is designed for people who need more support than outpatient treatment but still have some flexibility to remain working or in school.

    Programs at this level usually meet several times a week with each patient, ranging from two to five days a week.

    Treatment options typically include:

    • Individualized therapy
    • Personalized nutrition consultation
    • Topic-focused groups
    • Family support groups

    Residential Eating Disorders Treatment

    At this level of care, you are provided 24-hour care at a live-in facility. Every patient is constantly supervised, making monitoring health conditions resulting from eating disorders practical.

    These treatment programs are usually very structured, offering a setting that allows you to focus solely on physical and psychological healing. In addition, everything needed is provided in one central location.

    Inpatient/Hospital Eating Disorder Treatment

    This level of treatment offers a continuum of care 24 hours a day in a hospital setting. The primary focus of this level of care is medical stabilization and interruption of weight loss, with typical stays of less than three weeks.

    Once you’re considered medically stable, you are usually discharged to a residential treatment center for ongoing care.

    Partial Hospitalization

    Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are a step down from inpatient or residential treatment. Instead of receiving full-time (24-hour) care in a hospital setting, you attend PHP treatment in a structured environment for several hours a day on multiple days of the week.

    This is best for those who still need significant support from staff but are medically and mentally stable enough to begin transitioning back into their normal routines.

    Continuing Care

    After discharge from residential and/or inpatient programs, you can continue care. This allows you to continue having periodic sessions with your primary therapist and nutritionist for ongoing recovery support.

    The overall treatment team determines the frequency of sessions at the higher level of care and before discharge.

    Additional Treatment Resources

    Further treatment resources available to those with eating disorders include support groups or self-help options.

    Support groups that meet weekly or bimonthly are great ways to stay connected to other individuals who can empathize and help with accountability. Self-help tools include journal-keeping, meal plan templates, and online recovery support.

    Treatment Discussions

    How to Decide on the Right Eating Disorder Treatment Level

    People with eating disorders aren’t passive bodies that need healing. They are personalities that deserve dignity, compassion, and choice. As someone with an eating disorder, you have a say in what treatment level is right for you.

    Your treatment team will help you make a good decision, but these guidelines from the National Eating Disorders Association may help: [1]

    • Intensive outpatient: This form of care is best for medically and psychiatrically stable people.
    • Partial hospitalization: This form of eating disorder care is best for those who are medically stable but still functionally impaired and in need of daily care. Partial hospitalization is also helpful for people engaging in daily disordered eating, such as purging or fasting.
    • Residential: This form of care is best for people who are medically stable but psychiatrically impaired and need more than outpatient care can provide.
    • Inpatient: This form of care is best for those with mental and physical health conditions that must be monitored closely.

    Be honest with your treatment team about how you’re thinking, feeling, and reacting. If they offer a form of care that makes you uncomfortable, explain why a different option might be better for you.

    But remember that your team is qualified to make good decisions on your behalf. Eating disorders can change how you think and react. If you’re not sure which mode of treatment is best, let your team guide you.

    Outpatient Treatment

    Major Types of Therapies for Eating Disorders

    A significant part of treating eating disorders is therapy. It’s essential to focus on mental and physical health conditions, why eating disorders occurred in the first place, and to retrain the mind for a full recovery.

    1. Types of Treatment. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed September 2022.
    Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC Avatar

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