Psychological, Nutritional and Medical Treatments for Anorexia

When it becomes clear you or a loved one may be displaying symptoms of anorexia nervosa, the need for effective anorexia nervosa treatment becomes paramount. But for many with an anorexia nervosa diagnosis and their families, it can be difficult to determine which treatments are most appropriate for the eating disorder. Fortunately, with a little research, it is possible to clarify which treatments may be most beneficial. The most effective treatments fall into three main categories, psychological, nutritional and medical and they are offered at reputable treatment centers in combinations that ensure an individual can become fully recovered over time.

At first, the different options for treatment can seem a bit overwhelming. But once one understands the basics of treatment, it becomes much easier to examine the offerings of treatment centers to determine which is the best fit for each person. By consulting with doctors, counselors and treatment center professionals, individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can narrow down the treatment options they feel are best for them and get started on the the path to recovery. The sooner they begin treatment, the sooner they can begin living a life in recovery.

The Three Categories of Anorexia Nervosa Treatment:
Psychological, Nutritional and Medical

Psychological Treatments for Anorexia Nervosa

Speaking with any professional who treats anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa will quickly verify that psychological treatment is one of the the most important treatment type for eating disorders. All three treatment types play an important role in helping someone become recovered, but psychological treatment gets at the core of the issue and makes it possible for someone to change behaviors that may have seemed difficult, if not impossible, to change before. This is not to say psychological treatment is easy. Consistently meeting with a therapist to work on psychological issues is often challenging. But therapists are trained to help patients overcome those challenges. By working together, the patient and the therapist can discover effective ways to combat disordered behaviors and embrace new and more positive behaviors.

Some of the benefits of psychological therapy for the symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Helping individuals build skills for managing relationships; these skills can help one improve their relationships with family, friends and others to lower stress and increase support for recovery
  • Develop problem-solving skills that can support positive outcomes through the use of supportive approaches that can be utilized during the most difficult situations
  • Discarding old habits that do not serve the patient and replacing those habits with ones that are more likely to lead to a happy, fulfilling life
  • Helping to improve the mood of the patient, both during and outside of therapy in everyday life
  • Gaining skills that help one identify one’s relationship with food and the emotional condition that accompanies food choices
  • Changing patterns surrounding food so the process of eating and obtaining nutrition eventually becomes less stressful and more enjoyable
  • Gaining skills for managing stress and stressful situations, giving the individual more power and gaining more effectiveness in navigating potentially triggering situations

Therapy comes in many forms, each with its own way of approaching eating disorders. Therapy can be engaged in one-on-one with a therapist, with family members or with a group of individuals guided by a therapist. While there are many different types of therapy in treatment centers, some of the most common forms of therapy include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

    As one of the most popular types of therapy in use today, CBT offers a variety of advantages in the treatment of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. CBT helps one examine the thoughts and feelings they have and the effects those thoughts and feelings have on the actions they take. Working through CBT with a therapist can help patients see the way they think, feel and act more clearly, and can give them tools to alter the things they want to change to create the lifestyle they want to live.


  • Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

    CBT is also used in a group setting for the treatment of anorexia and other eating disorders. The overall framework is the same as it is for individual therapy, but the setting is different because there are multiple people engaging in therapy. The addition of other individuals seeking the same goal allows for different exercises and experiences to be shared. The coping skills learned in group therapy tend to translate very well into everyday life, which is why group therapy is encouraged and often required at eating disorder treatment centers. When combined with individual therapy, group therapy can help create real and lasting change.


  • Family-Based Therapy 

    The work one does as an individual in therapy is the foundation for living a recovered life. However, those individual changes can be greatly supported by a family and friend group who understand what one needs and how to help one seek and maintain recovery. The family may want to help, but it can be difficult to be truly helpful and to avoid being harmful, when one does not know how to best assist someone seeking recovery. With family-based therapy, loved ones can receive the knowledge and skills they need to help the patient over the long-term. Family-based therapy can make it much easier for individuals to return home and continue with their recovery because it helps family members understand how to be most supportive.

The Importance of Homework in Therapy

No matter how positive the experience in individual or group therapy may be, the fact remains that creating significant change requires ongoing practice. Therapy homework is designed to facilitate such practice. Therapists provide patients homework specific to their needs and the things they are working on and want to work on. Anorexia nervosa treatment will often include therapy homework and is certainly one of the major pillars in an effective treatment for the symptoms of anorexia nervosa. The homework is not necessarily time-consuming or inherently difficult. It could be as simple as keeping a journal of how one feels before and after eating. However, that does not mean it is not important. Completing therapy homework to the best of one’s ability is a major contributor to progress in psychological treatment after an anorexia nervosa diagnosis.

Nutritional Treatments for Anorexia Nervosa

In addition to the mental health concerns of eating disorders, anorexia nervosa can also have a seriously detrimental effect on the physical health of an individual. It is often the first concern of the treatment staff at an eating disorder treatment center to look to the physical health of a patient.

All reputable treatment centers have dietitians and other professional staff on hand specifically to address the nutritional needs of patients. These professionals can help determine what the nutritional needs of the patient are, what treatment needs to be administered and assist patients in understanding their nutritional needs. They create individual treatment meal plans for patients based on their specific needs, and support the patient in adhering to these meal plans during and after treatment.

There are many benefits provided by the nutritional treatment at an anorexia nervosa treatment center. These include:

  • Educating patients on their nutritional needs, including how nutrition can positively impact their physical wellbeing and how a lack of adequate nutrition can cause issues with their body and mental state
  • Helping patients engage in positive eating habits
  • Learning how to plan one’s own meals to ensure adequate nutrition intake
  • Assisting patients with identifying health and movement best practices goals
  • Informing patients about the risks posed by their eating disorder using facts and evidence, while also providing alternatives that ensure proper nutrition
  • Helping patients better understand and fuel themselves with the proper nutrients
  • Identifying the most effective paths to correct nutritional deficiencies so patients can be satisfied with their nutrition practices
  • Clarifying how anorexia nervosa impacts one’s nutrition and how to avoid the negative impact

Medical Treatments for Anorexia Nervosa

Psychological therapy treatments and nutritional treatments are the front lines for treatment after an anorexia nervosa diagnosis. However, there are times when medical treatments can bring added benefits and provide support for psychological and nutritional treatments. There are two medical treatments most commonly used to treat the symptoms of anorexia nervosa. Hospitalization is used when the physical risks posed by malnutrition have become too significant to be treated in a regular treatment center, while antidepressants may be used to help treat mental illness contributing to an eating disorder.

  • Hospitalization for Anorexia Nervosa

    There are many patients that receive an anorexia nervosa diagnosis that never requires hospitalization. If the condition is treated early enough or if the symptoms are milder it may not be necessary for the patient to be hospitalized. However, if the lack of proper nutrition becomes extreme, the toll on the body can become so substantial that hospitalization becomes necessary to stabilize the patient before another treatment is possible. Some anorexia nervosa treatment centers specialize in taking patients who have been transferred from a hospital setting. These treatment centers include staff that is qualified to provide medical care to ensure a smooth, safe transfer from a hospital to a treatment center.


  • Medications for Anorexia Nervosa

    The primary type of medication for anorexia nervosa treatment is antidepressants. The type of antidepressant used depends on the patient and the treatment provider, but the general idea behind the treatment is the same. For some patients, antidepressants can help them feel less depressed and therefore make it less likely they will engage in disordered behaviors. Antidepressants can be effective when used in conjunction with other treatments, particularly psychological therapy. They should not be considered a solution on their own, however. It is important for anyone with anorexia symptoms to see a treatment professional and get a full range of treatments, rather than to rely solely on medication as a solution.

Psychological, Nutritional and Medical Treatments for Anorexia are Available in Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment

One of the first things those diagnosed with anorexia notice when seeking treatment is that there are three main types of treatment options, inpatient, residential and outpatient. The three main categories of anorexia treatments, psychological, nutritional and medical, are all available in inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. However, the way they are delivered may vary slightly due to the difference in formats between each type of treatment.

Inpatient care or residential treatment requires the patient lives at the treatment center for a specific period of time. The fact that the patient is engaging in treatment on a continuous basis allows for a more thorough treatment program in many cases. The patient may engage in psychological treatment, including individual and group therapy, every day. The nutritional treatment at the center will include meals, which means that the nutritional treatment program can be adhered to completely for the entire time the patient is in treatment.

With outpatient care, the patient may still engage in psychological treatment multiple times a week. However, the frequency of therapy is unlikely to be every day. Nutritional treatment will still include individual treatment programs, but it will be up to the patient and their family to maintain the treatment program while they are not at the treatment center.

Information on Treatment Options for Anorexia Nervosa

If you or someone you care for has been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, please contact us. Our team can help you determine which type of treatment is right for your needs.