The treatment of an eating disorder depends on many factors. If you’re living with an eating disorder and begin treatment, your current situation and the specific eating disorder you’re experiencing usually make up the bulk of any doctor-prescribed plan.

In most cases, your doctor will recommend a combination of treatments, including one-on-one or group counseling and medications. But some people find alternative treatments are a helpful addition to the therapies that their doctor recommends.

If you’re living with an eating disorder, you might be interested in trying some of these alternative treatments alongside doctor-prescribed therapies. Read on to learn what alternative treatments people have used in their recovery journey and if they’re right for you.

Keep in mind

Alternative eating disorder treatments should not replace traditional treatments. Alternative therapies should only be used in addition to a treatment plan that a licensed medical professional prescribes. Talk with your doctor before adding any complementary therapies to your treatment plan.

Eating disorders are psychological conditions that cause disordered eating patterns. Some of these patterns may include certain behaviors regarding food, body image, or weight.

Some common eating disorders include:

Eating disorders can happen to anyone, but they’re most common in younger people.

Treatment for eating disorders depends on the specific eating disorder you’re living with. Since eating disorders are psychological, therapy is usually involved in their treatment. In severe cases, some medications like anti-depressants might be prescribed.

Outpatient care

Outpatient therapy programs are programs that allow you to return home after your session with your doctor.

Typically outpatient programs are for those who do not need constant monitoring during their treatment process. The makeup of these outpatient therapy programs depends on your individual needs.

Residential care

Residential therapy programs are live-in treatment facilities specifically for patients who are dealing with eating disorders.

These types of facilities allow constant care and monitoring for patients in the program. The length a person may stay in a residential treatment facility depends on their specific needs and the requirements of the facility.

Partial hospitalization

Partial hospitalization is similar to residential therapy because it’s a program that monitors patients eating habits daily. But the difference is that partial hospitalizations do not require patients to stay in facilities overnight.

Typically, patients are required to attend sessions with a healthcare professional during the day and go home afterward. The types of therapy and the length of the sessions depend on individual needs.

Inpatient care

Inpatient treatment for eating disorders involves a stay at a hospital. This type of treatment is usually for patients who are experiencing medical emergencies related to their eating disorders, including:

  • suicidal thoughts
  • unstable vitals
  • life threatening symptoms

Usually, patients who receive inpatient care also receive other types of treatment once they’re discharged from the hospital.


Some medications, including antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and antiseizure medications, are used to treat certain eating disorders.

A 2019 review of studies shows that certain eating disorders respond well to certain medications, while others may not respond to any medication at all.

  • Anorexia: Medication should not be used primarily to treat symptoms of anorexia or to increase weight gain.
  • Bulimia: Antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac) were found to be helpful in treating bulimia.
  • Binge eating disorder: Multiple medications have been proved to be succesful in treating binge eating disorder, including:
    • antidepressants
    • SSRIs
    • antiseizure medications

Keep in mind

You should always talk with a healthcare professional about any alternative therapies you want to try. Your doctor can help you assess the benefits and risks.

They may also want to supervise your alternative treatments to identify any side effects or potential problems or may want to offer traditional treatment methods in combination with alternative therapies.

Also, it’s important to note that there is limited research on most alternative eating disorder treatments.

Body awareness therapy

A 2019 study suggests that basic body awareness therapy is a therapeutic tool. Body awareness therapy is a program that focuses on quality movement awareness.

After going through treatment, people with binge eating disorders reported reduced body and self-awareness. Many of the treatments listed below are also intended to help with body awareness.


Yoga can help reduce stress levels and lead to clearer thinking. Yoga is a low-impact exercise with slow movements that help people become more in-tune with their bodies. Another 2019 study saw that participants reported significant changes in:

  • positive feelings and sense of well-being
  • less self-objectification
  • more positive body image

It’s important to note that some participants noted negative feelings like self-criticism and feeling uncomfortable while participating. But there were far more positive results than negative ones.


Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine. An acupuncturist inserts fine, sterile needles into specific points in your body. The goal is to improve your overall health.

In a small 2014 study, 26 participants diagnosed with anorexia nervosa received either acupuncture or acupressure twice a week for three weeks initially, and then once a week for three more weeks. Participants found that after trying acupuncture, their eating concerns were reduced, and they experienced a sense of relaxation during the time that they received treatment.

Some older research shows that incorporating several sessions of acupuncture alongside existing eating disorder treatments can significantly improve:

  • symptoms of anxiety
  • mental health
  • decreased sense of perfectionism
  • improved quality of life

Some people prefer acupuncture because it’s a drug-free treatment.

Relaxation therapy

Getting a massage may help with improving your outlook on life and lead to more positive attitudes towards recovery. Massage therapy can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine. It also decreases levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

In the above-mentioned study, participants found that acupressure therapy helped them feel calmer, more relaxed, and reduced their eating concerns.

In an older 2001 study, women with anorexia nervosa received massage therapy twice a week for 5 weeks. After their sessions, they had:

  • lower stress hormones
  • decreases in body dissatisfaction
  • increased dopamine and norepinephrine levels

There may also be similar benefits from other relaxation therapies like aromatherapy or meditation. One 2014 study found that mindful meditation can:

  • reduce emotional and binge eating
  • increase self-acceptance
  • improve awareness of your body’s hunger cues
  • help with anxiety, addiction, and pain management

The data on weight loss from meditation isn’t consistent. That’s because weight loss is dependent on other factors.


For some people, seeing the clinical and scientific evidence of their efforts may lead to even more positive outcomes.

In one pilot study, people with various eating disorders found biofeedback useful for heart rate variability (HRV). Among participants, 47 percent agreed that biofeedback strongly decreased their anxiety, with 35 percent agreeing that it somewhat decreased their anxiety.

HRV biofeedback encourages slow, meditative breathing by displaying your heart rate as a wave on a digital display. More evidence may be needed to prove the effectiveness of biofeedback.

An important part of recovering from an eating disorder is learning how to manage your overall health better. Incorporating healthy lifestyle habits and choices may help with managing an eating disorder.

These steps can include:

  • practicing self-care like regular exercise, maintaining meals, and sleep
  • sticking to your treatment plan
  • engaging in social activities with friends and family
  • reading self-help books
  • not focusing on the scale or the mirror

Seek out professionals

A doctor, therapist, or another health professional can help you or someone you know to establish a new routine. They can also refer to other resources and community services for information and support. If you can’t find the right dietitian, online resources can help with developing a meal plan.

There are also online resources to help find therapy options. Brands like Talkspace and BetterHelp offer fully virtual therapy, including video and text sessions with a licensed therapist.

It’s important to note that virtual options may not be best for everyone and are not suggested for severe cases of eating disorders.

Reach out to others

Talking with others who are facing similar situations may help you or someone you know to stay motivated. It can also provide a place to turn to if you have questions about the condition or treatment.

Some people find social media outlets as a form of inspiration. It allows them to keep a diary of their experiences, so they hold themselves accountable. Journaling online through the right forums can be helpful for some people as well. It lets you reach out to people going through similar challenges and get tips on how to overcome them.

Media education

Messages about body size in the media — especially content found on social media — can often affect people negatively. One 2016 study found that some women who posted “fitspiration” photos — images of physically fit bodies with messages of perseverance and persistence — on Instagram scored higher for:

  • thinness
  • bulimia
  • compulsive exercise
  • risk of clinical eating disorder

Stronger media literacy might be able to help fight this phenomenon.

One older 2008 review found that information-based, cognitive-behavioral, and psycho-educational therapies were least effective for improving college students’ body image and eating problems. But the same review suggested that media literacy can counter those findings.

No alternative therapies are as effective as traditional treatments when it comes to eating disorders. But some people do find alternative therapies helpful when used alongside doctor-prescribed treatment.

Alternative treatments like body awareness therapy can improve a person’s overall sense of self-esteem. Yoga and massage can also help reduce levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

You may also want to share your treatment plan with your family and friends. A network of people who believe in you can make a huge difference in the recovery process.

Speak to your doctor before you start a new therapy. They can help you assess the potential benefits and manage side effects.