Eating Disorder Treatment Types, Levels of Care, and Therapeutic Inteventions

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

Health professionals seen in the outpatient level of care can determine if a higher level of care is needed and refer as necessary.  The following are the common levels and types of eating disorder treatment:

Levels and Types of Eating Disorder Treatment

Smiling Mature Woman Outdoors in Eating Disorder Treatment

Outpatient Eating Disorders Treatment

This type of treatment is the least restrictive level of care.  Men and women participating in outpatient programs may see a nutritionist, therapist and other recovery professionals approximately 2-3 times per week.

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

Intensive Outpatient (IOP) Eating Disorders Treatment

This level of treatment is designed for men and women who do need more support than outpatient treatment but still have some flexibility to remain in school or work.

Programs at this level usually meet at individualized times for the participant, ranging from 2-5 days a week.  Treatment options typically include individualized therapy, personalized nutrition consultation, topic-focused groups, and/or family support groups.

Residential Eating Disorders Treatment

At this level of care, individuals are provided with 24-hour care at a live-in facility.  Constant medical supervision is placed over every participant, which makes it effective in monitoring health conditions.

These treatment programs are usually very structured, offering a type of setting that allows a man or woman to focus solely on physical and psychological healing.  Everything needed is provided in one central location.

Inpatient / Hospital Treatment 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 if medical stabilization and interruption of weight loss, with typical stays less than 3 weeks.

Once the individual is considered to be medically stable, they are usually discharged to a residential treatment center for ongoing care. Find the right eating disorder treatments center in our directory.

Continuing Care

After discharge from residential and/or inpatient programs, men or women have the option of continuing care.  This would allow them to continue having periodic sessions with their primary therapist and nutritionist for ongoing support in recovery.  The frequency of sessions are typically determined or recommended by the overall treatment team at the higher level of care and prior to discharge.

Additional Treatment Resources

Further treatment resources that are available to men or women with eating disorders include eating disorder support groups or self-help options.  Support groups that meet on a weekly or bi-monthly basis are great ways to stay connected to other individuals who are able to empathize and help with accountability.  Self-help tools include journal-keeping, meal plan templates, or online recovery support.

Major Types of Therapies for Eating Disorders

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on negative patterns of thinking as well as beliefs that contribute to these thought patterns.  CBT teaches participants skills that allow them to identify problematic beliefs as well as healthy ways to cope with emotions.

CBT has been shown to effectively help those who may be struggling with eating disorders or mood disorders and decrease destructive behaviors.  In relation to eating disorders, CBT may include educational components and the development of a meal plan, as well as addressing various facets, such as familial, psychological, and societal factors. Learn more about using CBT to treat eating disorders.

Medical Nutrition Therapy

Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) is a holistic method for treatment ofvarious medical conditions and their associated symptoms.  This is achieved by the use of customized meal plans that are usually formulated by a Registered Dietitian.

Components of MNT include assessment, dietary modification, and patient education.  MNT is used in the recovery of those who suffer from eating disorders to help establish normal eating behaviors and improve one’s relationship with food and body. Learn more about using nutrition therapy to treat eating disorders.

Happy Hikers in Eating Disorder Treatment

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a form of psychotherapy that connects cognitive and behavioral methods as an approach to coping with painful emotions.  The focus of this therapy is usually on individuals who react to emotional circumstances with extreme behaviors.

Components of DBT include the practice of mindfulness as well as emotional regulation.  Although DBT was originally designed for those that suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder, it has become an effective treatment therapy for men and women who deal with emotional instability.

DBT techniques can be beneficial for eating disorder treatment in that they allow individuals to better deal with conflict and stress while gaining increased control over negative thoughts and emotions. Learn more about using DBT to treat eating disorders.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is used to help men and women concentrate on ways to become aware of and accept their emotions and experiences.  This therapy is beneficial in eating disorder recovery as it helps individuals develop a healthier relationship with their emotions and intellect.

ACT can also help sufferers with eating disorders to recognize thoughts and urges that are tied to the illness, assisting them in understanding these impulses.  ACT is also effective in treating co-occurring disorders such as depression or anxiety. Learn more about using ACT to treat eating disorders.

Art Therapy

This is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its main form of communication and therapeutic healing.  Men or women who utilize art therapy in treatment are often guided by a professional in illustrating personal stories, thoughts, and/or feelings.  Types of art therapy that might be included are painting, clay making, sculpting, and drawing.

Art therapy can be an important part of treatment for those that suffer from eating disorders as it allows a creative outlet for expression and healing.  Art therapy can also be useful for treating co-occurring disorders, such as substance abuse or mood disorders. Learn more about using art therapy to treat eating disorders.

Dance Movement Therapy

Dance therapy is a therapeutic form of healing that allows participants to become involved in an alternate way of coping and expressing emotion. Dance therapy also can play a part in achieving a healthy balance as well as an approach to self-expression. Movement is the main way in which dance therapists will observe, evaluate, and apply various interventions.

Dance therapy has been proven an effective form of psychotherapy for various disorders, including learning disabilities and mood disorders. In regards to eating disorders, dance therapy can be influential in healing through guided movements and expressions. Learn more about using dance movement therapy to treat eating disorders.

Equine Therapy

Equine therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses horses as a tool for emotional growth.  Equine therapy is based on the premise that the bond that can grow between humans and animals will allow for emotional healing to occur.  Activities that might be involved are care for and grooming of the animal and basic exercises guided by a horse specialist.  Men or women who use equine therapy during treatment might have increased self-esteem and body image, particularly as the care for an animal has been shown to be an empowering experience. Learn more about using equine therapy to treat eating disorders.

Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP)

Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) is essential is helping individuals overcome fears and anxiety.  This is accomplished by gradually exposing a man or woman to the feared object or circumstance with the goal desensitizing fears.

Additionally, ERP also focuses on assisting participants in resisting the use of compulsive behaviors that might typically be used to cope with feelings of fear or anxiety.  The primary goal is for individuals to remain connected to the trigger without the use of their ritualistic behaviors.

ERP can be effective in the treatment of eating disorders as it helps participants overcome fears of forbidden foods and decrease urges to binge/purge. Learn more about using ERP to treat eating disorders.

Young Brunette with Children

Family Therapy

Family therapy is an important part of treatment in that is involves and works with families and couples.  The goal of family therapy is to promote nurturing change and maturation, and sessions are overseen by a family therapist.  Family therapy should be considered when a malfunction is observed within a family, contributing to problems that concern the overall ability of the family to function.  This form of therapy is crucial to those suffering from eating disorders in that in promotes healing for the entire family and can be helpful in eliminating life-threatening situations. Learn more about using family therapy to treat eating disorders.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) is a form of therapy that focuses on managing interpersonal problem areas, such as unresolved grief, role disputes, role transitions, and interpersonal deficits.  Men or women who participate in this form of psychotherapy address underlying personal issues and learn how to better cope with anxiety under the guidance of a therapist.

IN the treatment for eating disorders, IPT has been shown to be beneficial in that is increases self-esteem and body image.  IPT is also useful in addressing other disorders, such as substance abuse and bipolar disorder. Learn more about using IPT to treat eating disorders.

The Maudsley Method

This family based treatment focuses on incorporating parents as an active role in their child’s recovery process from eating disorders.  This would include guiding parents in helping their child eat balanced, healthy meals and prevent use of eating disorder behaviors, such as purging or over-exercising.  The Maudsley Method typically involves three stages and can be a crucial part of long-term recovery for adolescents with eating disorders. Learn more about using the Maudsley Method to treat eating disorders.

Articles for Eating Disorders

  • Benefits of Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery – Yoga is a therapeutic practice that can complement the recovery process from an eating disorder. Practicing yoga can reap many benefits for the eating disorder sufferer, including physical healing, improved body image, and greater awareness of one’s feelings and emotions. Learn more about how Yoga can be beneficial for someone recovering from an eating disorder.
  • Navigating the rough waters when looking for eating disorder inpatient and residential programs – Because of the many stigmas associated with eating disorders, it can be difficult for sufferers to seek the treatment they need.  Finding the right level of care and treatment center can involve many challenges and obstacles.  Learn more about the Clinical Practice Recommendations for Residential and Inpatient eating disorder programs.
  • Neurobiology and Eating Disorders – The brain has millions of neurons with trillions of connections, and a substantial portion of the brain is committed to the emotions and reasoning required to acquire food, what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. Is it any wonder, given the complexities of the brain, that some of us develop some sort of disordered eating? The neurobiology of disordered eating could help in developing individualized treatment for those who suffer from eating disorders.
  • The Value of PHPs and IOPs – Many eating disorder treatment programs either require round the clock medical supervision in a hospital or a more relaxed outpatient approach where symptoms are less intense. However, there are those that need a treatment option somewhere in between. This is where Partial Hospital Programs (PHP’s) or Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP’s) provide a real service and value. These solutions afford the patient and their loved ones an intense approach to recovery without having to leave home and the expenses that come with it.
  • Experiencing Inpatient Treatment – Eating disorder prevalence rates continue to increase among men and women. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), the mortality rate for individuals suffering from Anorexia Nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of all causes of death for females between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. Learn more about Inpatient Treatment.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in Eating Disorder Treatment – EMDR sessions are not scary. At first, the therapist will do a lot of history taking and tell you all about the process.