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How are Eating Disorders Treated?

Successful treatment and complete recovery from an eating disorder is possible.

Taking the first steps towards treatment can be challenging. A person with an eating disorder may feel stressed, nervous, anxious, embarrassed, ashamed or scared as they enter the treatment and recovery phase. Some may still be in denial about their problem, while others may feel like they have their disorder under control, even when they don’t.

Seeking help as early as possible greatly reduces the severity, duration and impact of an eating disorder. If you notice any warning signs or symptoms, whether in yourself or someone you care for, you should seek professional help straight away, rather than waiting for the illness to progress.

Person-Centred, Stepped Care

Person-centred, stepped care is the most effective way to treat someone with an eating disorder. This approach means that treatment is specifically customised to suit that person’s illness, situation and needs and also recognises that people with eating disorders may need to move up and down variously through these levels of care over the duration of their illness.

When considering treatment approaches for an eating disorder, it is important to understand that different people respond to different types of treatment, even if they are experiencing the same eating disorder.

These evidence-based treatments have been found to be effective in the treatment of eating disorders. Typically, these treatments are not stand-alone treatments and a person with an eating disorder will usually receive a combination of treatments as part of their recovery program.

Some treatments are better suited to specific eating disorders than others and a multidisciplinary approach to treatment is often the best way to treat an eating disorder.

Multidisciplinary treatment includes psychology, psychiatry, dietetics, nutrition, general medicine, family therapy as well as self-help and various complementary or allied treatments. 



Psychotherapy utilises a variety of techniques to manage and treat someone with an eating disorder. Emphasis during psychotherapy is placed on thoughts, emotions, behaviours, patterns of thinking, motivations and relationships. It can include models such as Cognitive Analytic Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy.

Psychotherapy will usually be conducted by a psychologist. However, other professionals such as psychiatrists, psychotherapists and counsellors can use certain aspects of psychotherapy to treat someone with eating disorder.

Family approaches

Family approaches are most common when adolescents, young adults and children are suffering from an eating disorder.

Family approaches will involve the whole family or support network of the person with the eating disorder during treatment. The aim of a family approach is to treat the person with the eating disorder, while also supporting and educating the entire family about how to care for the person with the eating disorder. Focus can also be placed on strengthening family relationships and improving the family dynamic.

Self-help approaches

Self-help approaches are carried out by the person who is suffering from the eating disorder and often involves forms of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Self-help treatments can be useful, however, they are most effective when combined with other treatment approaches that are provided by professionals and clinicians. Patients who only adopt self-help approaches and ignore or reject other forms of medical treatment may not recover from their eating disorder and may also be at high risk of recurrence or relapse.

Nutritional management

Nutritional management approaches are provided by a dietician or nutritionist during treatment. They can also sometimes be provided by a GP. This approach has been designed to ensure that the person with the eating disorder is receiving the right level of vitamins and minerals throughout the treatment process and to help the person with the disorder develop normal and beneficial eating habits and behaviours.


Medication-based approaches are often vital when someone with an eating disorder also has another type of disorder or illness, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia or psychosis. This is known as a co-morbid disorder.

Medications can be prescribed by psychiatrists or by medical doctors and GPs and should only be used in conjunction with another treatment approach.

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Worried about a friend or someone you care about?

It can be extremely difficult raising the subject of eating disorders with a friend or loved one. To be supportive one needs to learn what to say and what not to say.  


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Communicating your concern with your child about eating and dieting behaviour can be extremely difficult. Butterfly offers a range of services that can provide you with skills and information related to communicating with your child.  


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