Types of Therapy for Eating Disorders

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 23, 2021

There are different types of therapy for eating disorders. Typically, you will receive a wide variety of counseling for your eating disorders, including psychological therapies, nutritional education, and medical monitoring. Taking a holistic and organized approach to treatment has the best outcome for eating disorders.

What Is An Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is characterized by disturbances in eating behavior and the thoughts and emotions you have related to eating. If you have an eating disorder, you will feel obsessed with food, body weight, and shape. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Anorexia nervosa. If you constantly see yourself as overweight even when you are not, you might have anorexia nervosa. You may feel frequent urges to weigh yourself, limit the food you eat, compulsively exercise, or routinely use laxatives. Anorexia may come with severe health consequences.

Bulimia nervosa. People with bulimia nervosa have recurrent episodes of eating too much and then purging the food through various methods. Purging can happen through intentional vomiting, laxatives, diuretics (they help you lose water mainly through peeing), or excessive exercise. You can be overweight, underweight, or at an average weight if you have bulimia. The condition can cause acid reflux disorder, intestinal pain, electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and dental issues, among other consequences.

Binge-eating disorder. This is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. and is characterized by an inability to control your eating. There are no periods of fasting or purging after a binge. Often, people with this disorder are overweight or obese.

What Are the Treatments for Eating Disorders?

Eating disorder treatment varies for each person and each type of eating disorder. They include:

  • Anorexia nervosa. The psychological treatments most commonly used to treat anorexia are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), and specialist supportive clinical therapy (SSCM). Specialist supportive clinical therapy is a way to treat anorexia through education. In a study that compared all three treatments, it was found that CBT and IPT were the most helpful while SSCM had negative responses. Studies also indicate that the most widely effective treatments for anorexia nervosa are those that aim to improve your quality of life while also treating your eating disorder. It is important to find a treatment that is tailored to you.
  • Bulimia nervosa. The most successful treatment for bulimia nervosa is CBT. However, interpersonal psychotherapy has also been shown to have some success, as well. 
  • Binge eating disorder. Both IPT and CBT are found to be effective in treating binge eating disorders. However, in a study that compared the effectiveness of CBT versus treating binge eating disorder with Prozac, CBT was found to be more effective. 

Depending on the severity or type of your eating disorder, your doctor may suggest:

  • Nutritional education. You may need to work with a dietitian to learn healthier eating habits. Together, you’ll monitor your health issues through diet, create meal plans, and build better eating patterns. 
  • Medications. Your doctor may recommend medication along with counseling. Typically, medications used for this purpose are antidepressants. These are most effective for bulimia or binge eating disorders. You may also get treatment for a medical condition that resulted from your eating disorder.
  • Hospitalization. A severe or persistent eating disorder might require hospitalization. Often, the goal of hospitalization is to regulate your diet at the beginning of eating disorder treatment. 

You may also need to receive treatment for conditions that result from your eating disorder. They might include:

  • Either too much or too few electrolytes 
  • Heart issues
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive issues
  • Dental cavities 
  • Tooth enamel erosion
  • Low bone density or osteoporosis
  • Stunted growth 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 
  • Lack of menstruation 
  • Infertility and difficulty getting pregnant 

Show Sources


Current opinion in psychiatry: “Psychological treatments for eating disorders.”

Mayo Clinic: “Eating disorder treatment: Know your options.”

National Health Institute of Mental Health: “Eating Disorders.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info