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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.
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.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) Eating Disorders Treatment
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. Find the right eating disorder treatment center in our directory.
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.
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.
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: 
- 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.
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.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Art Therapy
- Dance Movement Therapy
- Equine Therapy
- Exposure & Response Prevention Therapy (ERP)
- Family Therapy
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)
- The Maudsley Method
Articles for Eating Disorders
- Somatic Experiencing, Trauma, and Treating Eating Disorders: Physical or psychological traumas often contribute to an eating disorder’s development. Appropriately healing from these traumas is a critical aspect of the recovery process from an eating disorder.
- 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 person with an eating disorder, including physical healing, improved body image, and greater awareness of one’s feelings and emotions.
- Utilizing Brain Stimulation in the Treatment of Eating Disorders: A noninvasive magnetic brain stimulation called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (RTMS) has shown some successful results in a study of 20 participants. Magnetic stimulation is performed on the frontal lobes of the brain.
- 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.
- Neurobiology and Eating Disorders: The brain has millions of neurons with trillions of connections. 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 Value of PHPs and IOPs: Many eating disorder treatment programs require round-the-clock medical supervision in a hospital. Some offer a more relaxed outpatient approach when symptoms are less intense, and some people need a treatment option somewhere between. This is where partial hospital programs (PHPs) or intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) 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 incur the expenses that come with that.
- 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.
- 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.
1. Types of Treatment. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed September 2022.
Published on January 11, 2023 and Reviewed By Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com