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Treatments for Eating Disorders

People with eating disorders often do not recognize or admit that they have a problem. As a result, they may resist starting and staying in treatment. The person involved has to want to change. Family members or other trusted people can help to ensure that the person with an eating disorder receives needed care and rehabilitation. For some people, treatment may be long-term. Relapse is common and is part of the process, especially during times of stress.

Eating disorders can be successfully treated. The sooner the disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcomes are likely to be. Because of their complexity, eating disorders require a comprehensive treatment plan. Medications and therapy will help change behaviors and coping mechanisms. These steps will also help with recognizing signs that can lead to a relapse.

The goals of treatment vary with the specific disorder, but in general, they include:

  • Restoring normal weight and hormone function, and resolving nutritional deficiencies using nutritional therapy with a registered dietitian
  • Stopping harmful, compulsive, or repetetive behaviors
  • Treating physical and psychological complications
  • Changing behaviors, attitudes, motivations, and conflicts related to eating and food
  • Individual, group, and/or family counseling
  • Preventing relapse

Severe weight loss may require hospitalization. In some cases, tube feeding may be necessary until the person is stabilized.

Treatment of eating disorders involves the following:

Lifestyle changesMedicationsAlternative and complementary therapiesOther treatments

Currently, there are no surgical options for the treatment of eating disorders.

Revision Information

  • American Psychiatric Association. Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with eating disorders. National Guideline Clearinghouse website. Available at: Updated 2011. Accessed May 18, 2016.

  • Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 19, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2016.

  • Bulimia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 19, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2016.

  • Devlin MJ, Goldfein JA, Petkova E, et al. Cognitive behavioral therapy and fluoxetine as adjuncts to group behavioral therapy for binge eating disorder. Obes Res. 2005;13(6):1077-1088.

  • Eating disorders: About more than food. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: Updated 2014. Accessed May 18, 2016.

  • Eating disorders in over 8s: management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence website. Available at: Updated January 2004. Accessed May 18, 2016.

  • Williams PM, Goodie J, Motsinger CD. Treating eating disorders in primary care. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(2):187-195.