The three types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. They are diagnosed based on a person’s eating habits and medical tests on their weight, blood and body mass index (BMI). 

Psychotherapy for eating disorders

Therapy may last from a few months to years. It can help the sufferer to:

  • Normalise their eating patterns and achieve a healthy weight
    • Exchange unhealthy habits for healthy ones
    • Learn how to monitor their food consumption and moods
  • Develop problem-solving skills to counteract any negative thoughts or behaviours
    • Explore healthy ways to cope with stressful situations
    • Improve their relationships with those around them
    • Improve their mood

Psychological treatment may involve a combination of the following different types of therapy. There are many different approaches and the best treatment depends on the particular eating disorder and the individual. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy 

This type of psychotherapy focuses on behaviors, thoughts and feelings related to the eating disorder. After helping the sufferer gain healthy eating behaviors, it helps them learn to recognise and change distorted thoughts that lead to eating disorder behaviors.

Family therapy

During this therapy, family members learn how to appropriately support and help the person restore healthy eating patterns and achieve a healthy weight until they can do it themselves. Due to the challenges outlined later on, it’s crucial for those around the sufferer to understand the nature of the disorder and the individual’s personal case to ensure they offer the right kind of support and advice, at the right times. This type of therapy can be especially useful for parents learning how to help their child or teen with an eating disorder.

Group cognitive behavioral therapy

This type of therapy involves meeting with a psychologist or other mental health professional along with others who are diagnosed with an eating disorder. It can help the individual address thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to their eating disorder, learn skills to manage symptoms, and regain healthy eating patterns.

Some people find group therapy helpful because it can help them to be more open about their own disorder. In doing so, they become able to share their experiences in a way that not only helps them to move past them but also to help others to do the same. This sense of helping others provides emotional support and comfort for all those involved. In many cases, the ability to speak openly and honestly about a mental disorder is a sign that the person is truly getting better. Rather than being controlled and/or defined by their disorder, they are able to view themselves as a normal person who has suffered from an eating disorder.

If the treatment tried does not seem to be working for them, they should explore alternative psychotherapy pathways. Depending on the expert they are treated by, this is often accessible through the same professional. 

At Psytherapy we pride ourselves on providing a treatment plans for eating disorders that are adapted and lead by the individual, with guidance from our qualified psychotherapist. Get in touch to find out more.  Scroll down for more advice on eating disorders. 

How do you treat eating disorders?

The sooner someone is treated for an eating disorder, the better the chances of them making a full recovery. Be sensitive in the way that you approach the illness and therapy for it. It is rare for a serious case to be diagnosed and treatment accepted early on for the following reasons. 


Often – but not always – a person with an eating disorder does not recognise that they are unwell. They act as though they are oblivious to there being any kind of issue with their mindset toward nutrition and their eating habits. This is usually the case in the early stages of developing an eating disorder. 


Once the illness becomes more established and serious, the sufferer may resist accepting or admitting that they are suffering from a disorder. In these cases, they may also be secretive about their eating habits. Many people with eating disorders develop ways to avoid situations they are not comfortable with, such as those involving eating with other people. This allows them to carry out their negative behaviours ‘behind closed doors’.



It is extremely difficult (and rare) for people with eating disorders to get better on their own. So it is really important that you or the person you know finds professional help and support as soon as possible. Realisation and acknowledgement of the fact that they are unwell can be a very significant and positive step towards their recovery. But the recovery process does not end there. After all, if it was as straightforward as saying to themselves, “The amount of nutrition I’m consuming is not healthy for me, I should change that,” no one would need professional help for eating disorders and they would not be classified as mental illnesses. 


As with other disorders such as addiction, it is very hard to shake the negative thought patterns and habits once these become engrained. The compulsion to avoid calories, overeat or purge in order to avoid weight gain can become too strong to ‘snap out of’ before the behaviour is carried out.

The process 

A person with an eating disorder may be diagnosed by a doctor, for example when attending an appointment with their GP. Or they may have found the courage and foresight to diagnose themselves, following support and encouragement from those close to them. Once diagnosed, they can be referred to an expert in the treatment of eating disorders. 


The best treatment plan typically includes a combination of psychotherapy, nutrition education, medical monitoring and sometimes medications. Psychological therapy is the most important component of eating disorder treatment because it enables the person to understand their illness. Psychotherapy tackles the underlying root causes of the eating disorder. Through psychotherapy, patients learn how to recognise why and when their eating disorder causes negative behaviours and habits and how to avoid these. As a result, it can form part of a long-term treatment plan and be therapeutic and relieving as well as preventative. It involves seeing a psychologist or another mental health professional on a regular basis.


At Psytherapy we pride ourselves on providing a treatment plans for eating disorders that are adapted and lead by the individual, with guidance from our qualified psychotherapist. Get in touch to find out more or alternatively, view our therapy pages for more information.