What is an eating disorder?

What treatment is available?

Page last updated: May 2007

Eating disorders can be effectively treated. Early intervention improves the outcome of recovery in all eating disorders. Recovery can take months or years, but the majority of people recover.

Changes in eating behaviour may be caused by many different illnesses, so a thorough physical examination by a medical practitioner is the first step.

Once the eating disorder has been diagnosed, a range of health practitioners may be involved as the illness affects people both physically and psychologically.

These practitioners may include psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, dietitians, social workers, occupational therapists and nurses.

Treatment is likely to include:

  • Dietary education to assist with retraining healthy eating habits.
  • Psychological interventions to help individuals change their thoughts, feelings and behaviours related to disordered eating.
  • Anti-depressant medications may be used to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • Interpersonal therapies help people to understand the effect of interpersonal relationships on their emotions and eating behaviour.
  • Outpatient treatment and attendance at special programs are the preferred treatment for people with anorexia. Hospitalisation may be required for those severely malnourished through lack of food.

The family and friends of people with an eating disorder can often feel confused and distressed. Support and education, as well as better community understanding, are an important part of treatment.