Treatment Options for Eating Disorders

Written by Kimberly Holland | Published on November 26, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP on November 26, 2014

What Is the Goal of Treatment for Eating Disorders?

The goal of treatment is to stop and reverse the physical damage done by the eating disorder, and to address the underlying issues that may be causing or contributing to unhealthy behaviors. Various treatment techniques aim to help identify and avoid situations, emotions, or behaviors that trigger  eating disorders and to replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones.

These treatments may include medication, nutrition education, and therapy. People with an eating disorder often take classes and meet with licensed therapists on a regular basis to monitor their recovery.

What Types of Treatment Are Used?

Research has not identified a specific treatment cycle that is more effective than another. The recommended treatment depends on each individual person with the eating disorder and their particular situation.

Doctors and licensed professionals will work to create a customized treatment plan. These plans are tailored to the individual needs and personalities, past treatment experience, and the desire to recover. These treatment plans may include the following.


Many people with eating disorders participate in one-on-one sessions with a psychotherapist. A therapist will work with you to identify moods, feelings, and other stimuli that trigger unwanted behaviors. You will work together to develop healthy ways to cope with these situations.

Group therapy may also be effective. This type of therapy is done in a large setting with others who are also trying to recover from an eating disorder.

Family-based therapy is used to treat children and adolescents with an eating disorder. With this type of therapy, parents assume responsibility for helping their child recover. Having family members involved can help the child or adolescent relearn healthy-eating behaviors in a supportive, encouraging atmosphere.

Medical Treatment

Eating disorders can cause serious health problems. These problems may include heart damage, abnormal blood pressure, and organ failure.

If the problem has become very severe, it may require hospitalization and monitoring. Some in-patient clinics also specialize in treating eating disorders.

Nutritional Counseling

Dietitians and nutritionists work with individuals to create a healthy, balanced diet to ensure that they get the amount of nutrients they need. This can help someone with an eating disorder get back to a healthy weight and teach them healthier eating habits in the long-term.


The research behind using medications to treat an eating disorder is still uncertain. Medications will not cure an eating disorder, but they may help treat some of the underlying problems. These problems include depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What Are Other Treatments for Anorexia Nervosa?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), doctors may encourage parents of children or teens with anorexia to try a type of therapy called the Maudsley approach. This type of treatment makes parents assume responsibility for feeding their child. This is especially helpful when children need to regain weight.

What Are Other Treatments for Bulimia Nervosa?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used for people who have bulimia. This type of therapy focuses on identifying unhealthy behaviors so that a person can solve them without resorting to the binge-purge cycle.

Medications to treat anxiety or depression may be used. According to the NIMH, clinical studies have shown that the antidepressant Fluoxetine may reduce the binge-eating and purging cycle. It has also been found to reduce the risk of relapse and improve attitudes around food.

How Is Binge Eating Disorder Treated?

As with treatments for other disorders, treatment for a binge eating is usually a combination of several treatment types. These include therapy, antidepressants, and behavior improvement.

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