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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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Learn about eating disorder treatment

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can impact all aspects of someone's physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The behaviors associated with these conditions don't go away on their own, and they can be dangerous or even deadly if left untreated.

That's why it's so important to seek out treatment for eating disorders.

Thankfully, there are many approaches to eating disorder treatment that have been found to help. These treatments can be administered across several levels of care, making them helpful for people at all points along the recovery journey.

We offer remote treatment

  • Attend therapy sessions
  • Get a numberless scale
  • Receive meal support

Call 866-293-0041

12
 minute read
Last updated on 
February 12, 2024
February 12, 2024
Eating disorder treatment
In this article
close up of two people holding hands

How to treat eating disorders: Types of therapy

Psychotherapy is the most common treatment for eating disorders. Also called "talk therapy," this approach involves working with one or more therapists to stop disordered eating behaviors and the unhelpful thoughts that drive them.

Some treatments for eating disorders help a patient understand and heal past issues that may be driving their thoughts and behaviors. Others concentrate on identifying and alleviating present matters to make a more immediate and direct impact on behavior.

A treatment plan for eating disorder behaviors can involve one or several types of therapy administered in an individual or group setting. However, several major therapeutic approaches have been identified as particularly helpful for the treatment of eating disorders.

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Cognitive behavioral therapy
Dialectical behavioral therapy
Acceptance commitment therapy
Family-based therapy
Nutritional counseling

How to treat eating disorders: Levels of care

When asking how eating disorders are treated, one can also consider the levels of care involved.

Most eating disorder treatment plans use a tiered structure, with patients starting with the most intensive care and eventually working toward lower levels of care and an independent living scenario.

Inpatient care

The most intensive level of care for eating disorders is inpatient care. This approach involves living full-time at an eating disorder treatment facility, where meals are provided, and full-time staff is on watch.

There are several tiers of treatment options when it comes to inpatient care.

Inpatient hospitalization
Residential treatment

Partial hospitalization

When patients have demonstrated sufficient progress in the residential program, they can move on to a partial hospitalization program (PHP). Some patients are also initially referred to a PHP for a variety of financial and medical reasons.1

This step is also referred to as a “day program,” as a patient can return home from the facility during the evenings. Still, PHPs are often extensive, requiring treatment up to 5-6 days a week, for as long as 10 hours a day in some cases.1

The types of eating disorder treatments offered in a PHP are similar to those in eating disorder residential programs, including different types of therapy, meal monitoring, and regular medical check-ins. At this stage, patients continue to receive regular care but can start bringing their healthier skills and routines home and practicing them in their own environment.

woman sitting by window on phone

Outpatient care

Outpatient care is the least intensive type of eating disorder treatment, so it's best suited for those who have demonstrated the ability to make consistently recovery-oriented decisions or those whose eating disorder symptoms aren't negatively impacting their lives yet.

The initial stage of outpatient care is generally called intensive outpatient (IOP) and will still require someone to receive treatment for several hours a day, several days a week.1 But the schedule is generally more flexible. It can allow the person to go to work, continue with school, or participate more regularly in outside social situations.

Regular outpatient status involves even less treatment. At this point, someone may continue attending therapy sessions or seeing doctors for regular medication assessments. Still, they have essentially fully resumed their role at home and in society—armed with the strategies that can help them cope with life’s stressors in a healthier way.

The benefits of treating eating disorders

Eating disorders do not go away on their own, but they are treatable.

These conditions are dangerous and, unfortunately, often deadly if left unchecked. Getting treatment of any sort is crucial to giving someone struggling with an eating disorder the best chance possible at living a full, healthy, and happy life.

The different eating disorder levels of care can also play a key role in ensuring long-term recovery.

When an eating disorder has progressed to the point of serious medical complications, around-the-clock supervision may be necessary to help them get out of a state of crisis.

Yet, as patients continue to learn, grow, and adapt to healthier strategies, they’re slowly but surely “stepped down” from this level of observation, giving them the chance to practice new skills while protecting them from getting too overwhelmed too quickly and reverting to old, unhealthy habits in response.

The benefits of virtual treatment for eating disorders

Virtual programs are an increasingly popular option for eating disorder treatment. That's partly because of the accessibility these programs afford, offering therapy options for those who live far from in-person treatment centers or have challenges with transportation or mobility.

Thanks to its flexibility, virtual/remote treatment can be a more convenient option for many people. And these programs are generally less expensive than in-person options, giving more people, overall, an option for eating disorder rehabilitation.8

While still relatively new, these programs have already been found to be just as effective as in-person care in many cases, with patients undergoing online care showing similar levels of improvement as those in traditional eating disorder treatment.9

The Within treatment program

At Within, we offer yet another option for people seeking help.

Our unique brand of virtual eating disorder treatment can help bridge the gap between PHP and IOP, giving patients a knowledgeable and reliable shoulder to lean on and expanding opportunities to continue healing.

Our patients benefit from up to 10x more hours of care compared to other virtual programs

This means more support, more education, stronger relationships, and better outcomes.

How we do it

The Within difference

Our caring and dedicated team can help formulate individual treatment plans based on your personal needs, health, condition, and previous treatments. We can provide everything you need, from meal plans to medical equipment. Our team of experts can even help straighten things out with insurance to ensure you can participate in the program in the fullest confidence.

86%

of those who complete our treatment program report reduced eating disorder symptoms

The Within results
Flexible programming
Virtual nurse monitoring
Additional support

Blind weigh-ins

Weigh-ins are often required in eating disorder treatment to ensure those who are being treated are stable and progressing in their recovery. 

But being weighed can be very stressful and triggering for someone who is recovering, or has recovered, from an eating disorder. Seeing a number on the scale can provoke intense anxiety in someone who is afraid of gaining weight and has previously engaged in extreme measures of controlling their weight. This can trigger them to resort to disordered eating behaviors. 

So, instead of open weigh-ins, where an individual sees or is told the number on the scale, which can be harmful to those recovering from eating disorders, Within incorporates blind weigh-ins in its treatment plans when weigh-ins are medically necessary. Blind weigh-ins do not require individuals to see or hear their weight and can prevent them from becoming stressed or triggered.

Don't give up

Regardless of where you are on your recovery journey, the most important thing is never giving up. The path can sometimes feel more like an endless loop than a throughline to wellness. But each step forward will make you stronger and get you one step farther toward your goal and a healthier and happier future.

PGet help today

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. Levels of Care. (n.d.). University of California San Diego. Accessed September 2023. 
  2. Murphy, R., Straebler, S., Cooper, Z., & Fairburn, C. G. (2010). Cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(3), 611–627.
  3. Psychotherapy. (n.d.). National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed September 2023. 
  4. Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2010). The empirical status of the "new wave" of cognitive behavioral therapy. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(3), 701–710.
  5. Tchanturia, K., Davies, H., Roberts, M., Harrison, A., Nakazato, M., Schmidt, U., Treasure, J., & Morris, R. (2012). Poor cognitive flexibility in eating disorders: examining the evidence using the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task. PloS one, 7(1), e28331.
  6. Rienecke, R. D. (2017). Family-based treatment of eating disorders in adolescents: current insights. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 8, 69–79.
  7. Peckmezian, T., & Paxton, S. J. (2020). A systematic review of outcomes following residential treatment for eating disorders. European Eating Disorders Review, 28(3), 246–259.
  8. Kass, A. E., Balantekin, K. N., Fitzsimmons-Craft, E. E., Jacobi, C., Wilfley, D. E., & Taylor, C. B. (2017). The economic case for digital interventions for eating disorders among United States college students. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50(3), 250–258.
  9. Steiger, H., Booij, L., Crescenzi, O., Oliverio, S., Singer, I., Thaler, L., St-Hilaire, A., & Israel, M. (2022). In-person versus virtual therapy in outpatient eating-disorder treatment: A COVID-19 inspired study. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 55(1), 145–150.

FAQs

What are the different types of treatment for eating disorders?

Eating disorders can be treated in several ways.

The most common type of treatment for eating disorders is psychotherapy. Many different approaches and modalities are used to help stop disordered eating behavior, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the leading evidence-based treatment for most eating disorders.2

Nutrition counseling is another popular tool to help treat eating disorders. This involves teaching patients healthier eating habits and improving their relationship with food and eating.

Some experiential therapies are also sometimes used to treat eating disorders, though these are generally used alongside other types of psychotherapy. Some of the most common include art therapy, adventure therapy, and music therapy.

Patients can participate in these treatments in individual or group therapy sessions. Each format has its own set of benefits, and some patients may even participate in both types of therapy at once.

How long is inpatient eating disorder treatment?

The length of inpatient treatment for eating disorders is individual to each case, depending on several factors, including the patient's overall health and pace of progress.

Inpatient hospitalization is generally a short-term type of care, lasting as long as it takes for a patient to become medically stable—usually up to a few weeks.

Residential treatment programs are longer-term options. These programs can last several months but usually last at least 30 days.1

What are the 4 levels of eating disorder treatment?

The major eating disorder levels of care include:1

  • Inpatient treatment: These programs involve a patient living at a treatment facility. This includes both inpatient hospitalization and residential programs.
  • Partial hospitalization programs/day programs: Patients have treatment sessions most days of the week, for extended periods of time, but live and sleep at home.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment: A hybrid level of treatment, patients at this point go to treatment sessions several days a week but have enough time at home to resume social responsibilities.
  • Outpatient treatment: This is the least intensive level of treatment that involves a regular appointment with a therapist, psychiatrist, or nutritional counselor.

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Further reading

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