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Treatment for Anorexia


Unlike depression or panic disorder, there are no specific medications that are used to treat anorexia nervosa. First and foremost, a physician — after a complete medical exam and workup — will prescribe medication that will treat any medical problems, like electrolyte abnormalities or abnormal heart rhythms.

  • Antidepressants: Many people with anorexia often also have depression, and these depressive symptoms may respond to antidepressants. There is no data, however, that shows that antidepressants are effective in the acute treatment of anorexia. Research has shown that people respond to medication much better after they are restored to a weight closer to within their normal limits. Some antidepressants have a side effect of weight gain, which may have unintended consequences in the treatment of anorexia if not carefully considered within the full treatment plan.
  • Estrogen: Women with anorexia are at risk of fractures; this is as a result of osteoporosis. The lack of periods from their low body weight puts them in a state like early menopause. There is some suggestion that taking estrogen can help some women re-mineralize their bones and perhaps keep them from having fractures in the future. However, like any medication, the decision to consider taking estrogen must be weighed with the negative side effects of it.

Residential Treatment Facilities for Anorexia

Residential treatment facilities offer a complete array of treatment services in one place.

One place where all of the above treatment options are available is called a residential treatment center. Such treatment centers are located throughout the United States and in many other countries as well, and focus on the treatment of all the different types of eating disorders (including anorexia). Such facilities usually include a wide range of specialists — psychologists, medical doctors, nutritionists, meditation and relaxation professionals, and fitness experts. They help a person learn all of the skills necessary (through the cognitive-behavioral techniques outlined above), and put them into daily practice in a safe, relaxed setting.

Often these kinds of treatments may be paid for by an individual’s private health insurance, for up to a certain period of time (often 30 days). Check with your health insurance provide to see if such coverage is available for you.

Hospitalization for Anorexia

In cases where a person with anorexia is severely ill and has a relapse from baseline weight, or is below 15 percent of appropriate body weight, or the individual has other serious medical problems, inpatient hospitalization may be necessary. During such hospitalizations, people with anorexia are encouraged to eat regular meals with liquid supplements, but those who refuse feedings are given feedings through a nasogastric tube (plastic tube passed through nose, down esophagus, into stomach). Group and individual therapy supplement dietary and medical therapies.

At one time inpatient treatment lasted many weeks, if not months, but in today’s climate the goals of hospitalization are weight gain and medical stabilization. The patient is moved to outpatient therapy when it is considered safe to do so.

Self-Help for Anorexia

There are a variety of self-help methods available for eating disorders, including anorexia. Self-help support groups are a great way of getting emotional support while trying to make changes in one’s life to support a healthier self-image and eating behaviors. Self-help books on anorexia can be a great place to start to gain some insights and tips on changing one’s self-image and disordered eating.

Since many people with anorexia use food as a coping skill for dealing with negative emotions, finding other, healthier coping skills may be a good place to start.

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Our positive self-image and eating issues blog Weightless is a great place to find more tips on improving your coping skills and self-image. However, you can also start with these tips about how to improve your body image from the Something Fishy website:

  • Wear clothes you feel comfortable in – Dress to express yourself, not to impress others. You should feel good in what you wear.
  • Stay away from the scale – If your weight needs to be monitored, leave that up to the doctors. How much you weigh should never affect your self-esteem.
  • Stay away from fashion magazines – Unless you can look through these magazines knowing they are purely fantasy, it’s just better to stay away from them.
  • Do nice things for your body – Get a massage, a manicure, or a facial. Pamper yourself with a candlelight bath, scented lotion, or a new perfume.
  • Stay active – Movement therapy helps improve your sense of wellbeing. Take up Yoga or Tai’ Chi, play volleyball with the kids, or bike ride with friends. Make angels in the snow or sandcastles at the beach. Be active and enjoy life!
Treatment for Anorexia

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2020). Treatment for Anorexia. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.