Treatment for Eating Disorders

Treatment for eating disorders has to be very personalized because each disorder is so different and each individual’s experience with an eating disorder is very personal. Learn what steps to take to get help with treatment for eating disorders.

Both because there are so many variations of eating disorders, and also because the range of side effects and accompanying conditions is so wide-ranging, treatment approaches will vary widely, and the most crucial symptom will be the first treated. In fact, it may be that it is through seeking treatment for the symptom that the eating disorder is uncovered. This may be the case whether the patient is an anorexic who has attempted suicide, a bulimic who has developed type 2 diabetes, a person with pica who has accidentally ingested bacteria and now has an infection, etc.

In the face of this, and disagreement by experts on the best form of treatment, this discussion will, of necessity, be general. Professionals who are involved in an individual case are in the best position to determine appropriate treatment for eating disorders.

Initial Treatment for Eating Disorders

The beginning of teen eating disorder treatment is diagnosis, and besides a physical examination, a variety of instruments may be used to assess a patient’s symptoms, including eating habits, body image, and other psychological issues. In all cases of eating disorders, patients may be secretive, uncooperative, and ambivalent about receiving treatment.

Note: Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed as part of the treatment for eating disorders, timed according to the presentation of symptoms. Nevertheless, the FDA has warned that antidepressants can carry the risk for suicidal thoughts in young people up to age 24. Any use of antidepressants with teens or young adults should be done only after careful consultation and education.

Anorexia nervosa

The treatment plan for anorexics aims to restore them to a sufficient weight, to treat medical complications that the eating disorder has caused directly or indirectly, to provide nutritional and diet information and any other necessary education, and to treat underlying psychological issues. Treatment may be begun with hospitalization and intravenous feeding, or be conducted during the day or on an outpatient basis.

Psychotherapy is often a treatment component, and may involve individual, family, or group therapy, and/or cognitive-behavioral therapy, among other choices. Group therapy is not recommended at the outset because it can have negative effects on the patient who is not yet restored to a healthy weight.

Medication is not widely used in treating anorexia nervosa, according to reports, and when it is used, is only introduced after the patient’s weight is stabilized.

Early intervention yields significantly better results. This may mean beginning treatment before the patient has met the diagnostic criteria - e.g., weighs only 11% (not 15%) less than ideal weight or has a body mass index (BMI) of 17.7 rather than 17.5.

Research suggests that half the patients who receive treatment for anorexia nervosa make a complete recovery. Preventing relapse is a key component of treatment.

Binge Eating Disorder

Unlike anorexics, binge eaters often have a weight loss program as part of their treatment plan, but only if they are overweight. In addition, they may receive cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and/or drug therapy, often in the form of antidepressants. Other therapies used less often include dialectical behavior therapy, weight loss surgery, and an exercise program.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa has a recovery rate that is a bit higher than that for anorexia nervosa. Whether treatment is managed by a physician a psychiatrist, or a psychologist will be determined by the symptoms and complications involved. Patients may require hospitalization or may be treated in outpatient programs. Treatment may involve a combination of counseling, medial treatment, and drug therapy, as well as nutrition education. Bulimics may learn to avoid trigger foods and to binge without purging afterwards as steps towards a balanced approach to food.


Pica treatment includes determining whether the person’s eating is in response to any nutritional deficiency. Behavior modification and close monitoring of activity are the best approaches to pica. Nutritional training and positive reinforcement for healthy choices.

Rumination Disorder

As with pica, treatment of rumination disorder focuses mainly on changing behavior, such as adjusting the eating environment, changing post-meal activities, and aversive conditioning. Psychotherapy may be used, but there are no medications to treat this eating disorder.


Related Article: Causes of Teen Eating Disorders >>