9 Questions You Should Ask Before Entering an Eating Disorder Treatment Center

When picking a location for eating disorder treatment, there are dozens of program types and centers to choose from. The options can be overwhelming; the reason for this is that eating disorders are complex and require specialized treatment, so eating disorder treatment centers need to be comprehensive and flexible. Because of the variety of treatment methodologies for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and other forms of an eating disorder, what may work for one person may not work for another. Whether you are looking for an eating disorder treatment program for yourself or another, you’ve got to know what questions to ask them if you want to choose the best center for achieving a full recovery.

When inquiring about possible programs with your doctor or therapist, it’s a good idea to list the potential client’s needs and compare them to the treatment center’s philosophy and available methodologies. Not every center is the same; one eating disorder treatment facility might offer only residential treatment or day treatment, while another might offer both or an integrated program. It goes beyond the live-in status, however.

Recovery isn’t a cookie-cutter kind of process; it’s deeply personal. People seeking out help or their loved ones should make sure the program is going to match their emotional, medical, psychiatric, and spiritual needs as they move towards recovery. However, because it’s so personal and so complicated the recovery process may seem mystifying for a first-time client or one moving to a different level of care from what they previously experienced.

Here are 10 questions you can ask a treatment center for eating disorders that can help familiarize yourself wither their methodology and programming.

1. How long has the center been open and how much experience does the staff have?

Eating disorder treatment is a complex mix of psychological and medical programs, so experienced staff with knowledge across the board in multi-faceted treatment techniques is a must. An established treatment center will have years of combined experience in treating all kinds of eating and exercise disorders, as well as various co-occurring disorders. A newly-established facility is by no means automatically deficient, of course, and sometimes they are created by experts with experience in the field. However, your chances of finding a well-equipped and experienced staff are better at a treatment center that’s been around for a while.

2. Are the staff members certified and licensed in their fields?

An eating disorder treatment center with a full continuum of care will have staff who specialize in a variety of different but related fields. For example, a residential eating disorder facility will have medical teams, i.e. doctors and nurses, on hand, as well as other professionals with medical degrees like psychiatrists. Additionally, there will be several different therapists, nutritionists, and dieticians, all of whom should be fully licensed and educated in their field. It behooves you to find out if all members of the treatment teams are fully licensed, certified, and trained in the treatment of various eating disorders.You may also want to find out about the staff’s ongoing education requirements and how they stay abreast of the developing methodologies in the profession.

3. What are the living, eating, and exercise areas like? What are the grounds like?

Whether in residential or day treatment, a significant amount of time will be spent in these areas, so it’s essential to get an idea of how appealing they are before admitting into treatment. It might even help offset the misconception that many people have – that treatment facilities are hospital-like and impersonal. Some parts of treatment may take place in a hospital if the client’s needs include intensive medical care. However, home-like settings that provide state-of-the-art treatment through a combination of group therapy modalities, meal support, nutrition education, psycho therapeutic support, and mindfulness training are often available and should be considered. Also, consider what the local environment is like – many treatment centers include nature walks and meditation time at nearby leisure spots.

4. Does every person receive the same treatment plan, or is it individualized?

When it comes to eating disorder recovery, as with any kind of mental health treatment, what works for one person might not work for another. Eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder may come with co-occurring disorders, exercise addiction, or they may manifest themselves in different levels of severity. Because of this, when you or your loved one is discussing the program with an admissions specialist, you should always ask about the steps the center takes to ensure every person in their care is getting individualized attention. A great first step is to take a detailed assessment at the point of admission, and then work with the staff to develop your personalized treatment plan.

5. Can I expect evidence-based treatments?

Each eating disorder recovery center has its style of therapy. Some focus only on eating disorders, for example, while others may have a faith-based methodology. There are many holistic and alternative treatments at most eating disorder treatment centers, but the most effective programs combine these valuable methodologies with more evidence-based treatments. Evidence-based treatments have been proven time and time again in clinical and real-world settings. A prime example is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a talk therapy method that helps people retrain their cognitive process to identify and avoid disordered thoughts. It’s been proven effective not only with eating disorders but with various mental health disorders as well. Asking questions about the style of therapy, focusing on evidence-based methodologies, will help you decide if the center is right for you or your loved one.

6. Are there various therapeutic methodologies in play?

People respond in different ways to different kinds of treatment, so a center that puts all its focus on one style of therapy may not be able to treat every client as effectively as they might. We already mentioned how CBT helps to identify and replace disordered thinking and the ideas that contribute to those thought patterns, for example. However, a similar process called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) helps people deal with painful emotions, and is helpful for those who find that certain situations can trigger extreme eating behaviors. It’s useful in some cases in which CBT doesn’t work as well. We also mentioned holistic therapies like mindful meditation, which can be great supplements to evidence-based therapies. Lastly, the importance of nutritional education in eating disorder recovery can’t be overstated. You should definitely ask the admissions specialists at your potential treatment center about the variety of therapies they offer and how they can be combined to make a personal recovery plan.

7. Does the recovery center offer alternative and experiential therapies?

To follow up on our last point, you should also explore alternative and experiential therapy beyond the traditional talk-based models, which can be vital for a complete recovery. A tentpole practice along these lines at many eating disorder treatment centers, including Oliver-Pyatt Centers, is daily yoga sessions. Yoga is a wonderful practice for low-intensity movement, essential for groups that are at high risk for compulsive exercising, and it’s a boon to mindfulness. Yoga and other forms of mindful meditation form one corner of an experiential therapy program, but other types can be useful as well.

Ask your admissions specialists if thoughts and emotions are recorded in a journal, or of there are excursions to art shows or concerts. Music and art therapy can be done by the clients as well – many people in treatment express that they can explore their recovered selves through art, music, and writing. All these alternative therapies and more have their place – so make sure to find out which are being offered.

8. Does the recovery center provide nutrition education and diet planning?

It’s worthwhile to ask if the center has meal-planning and grocery shopping activities as well as on-site nutritionists and dieticians. Individual nutrition sessions, nutrition education and counseling, and nutritional supplements can help restore the body’s nutritional balance during and after treatment. Often these educational program supplements are focused on weight restoration. However, in virtually every case, intuitive eating and balanced nutrition are the goals of an eating disorder treatment program’s nutritional program. When searching out a program, make sure you ask about nutritional education and the staff that provides it – they’re key to long-term recovery, especially after a person returns home.

9. Does the recovery center offer aftercare programs and support groups?

It’s a bit of cliché in recovery circles to say that “recovery isn’t linear,” but there’s a lot of truth to it. After eating disorder treatment is completed, the client is still at risk for relapsing or going back to the disordered eating behaviors. Many things can trigger a relapse; most common are reactions to past trauma (PTSD) or new stresses. Incidentally, trauma doesn’t necessarily mean abuse – it can be anything that causes stress or pain, emotional or physical. Relapses happen; your eating disorder treatment program should be ready to provide support to help prevent them and get back on track.

Always ask what kinds of aftercare programs a potential treatment center or organization has to offer. Most will offer some kind of support group and online resources to help people reach out any time. They may also offer alumni associations that can maintain friendships made in treatment (this is extremely common) and establish a common source of support.


With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.