Help and Treatment

It is usually very difficult for people with eating disorders to get better on their own. It is important that you find professional help and support as soon as possible.

We know that gaining access to this treatment isn’t always as straightforward as we would like it to be. Although we know that the sooner someone gets the treatment they need the more likely they are to make a full recovery, you might find that you’re faced with a long wait before accessing NHS treatment. In these instances do remember the self-help support services on offer through Beat. You could use our Message Boards, access our support groups either in your local area or online, contact our Helpline Services or use HelpFinder, our online directory to search for services near to you.

In this section we’ll talk about where to get help and what treatment you should expect for your eating disorder.

Where to get help

The first port of call when looking for help is always through your GP. It is an incredibly brave thing to speak out and ask for support and if it is something you’re anxious about you can speak to our Helpline about your anxieties. You could also talk to a friend, your parents or someone at school, university or work. You could ask them to visit the GP with you if you are worried about going on your own.

Your GP and other members of the primary care team, like your practice nurse, will play an important part in this first step of identifying your eating disorder. Sometimes a GP might refer you straight to an eating disorder specialist or they might want you to come back after to see how you are. Please don’t see this as a sign that you don’t deserve treatment but persevere.

Your GP will look at your weight for your age and might monitor significant weight changes, ask about concerns you have over your weight or body shape, talk about eating disorder behaviours and might also take some blood for testing. Although it might seem daunting try to be as open with the doctor about how you are feeling and the impact your eating difficulties are having on you. If you feel nervous about what might happen during the appointment you can talk to your doctor about this at the start. You might find it helpful to write down the points you would like to talk about before your appointment.

If your GP thinks you might have an eating disorder they should refer you for an assessment and possible treatment by a person who has specialist eating disorder knowledge. This should happen as quickly as possible. You might find it useful to take a look at the NICE guidelines which provide clinical information about eating disorders and how they should be treated. They outline the best practice that healthcare professionals should follow when treating eating disorders.

Treatment for eating disorders

Recommended treatment for an eating disorder differs depending on your diagnosis. Please find information on treatment for each disorder below. The information we provide on our site has been informed by the NICE guidelines which provide information about eating disorders and how they should be treated.

Treatment for anorexia

You should expect that most of your treatment will be as an outpatient and any psychological treatment should last for at least six months. If you are thought to be at serious risk you might be recommended for inpatient or day patient treatment.

Psychological treatments such as cognitive analytic therapy (CAT), cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), focal psychodynamic therapy and family therapy are some treatments that you might be referred to once diagnosed with anorexia. They aim to help psychological recovery and you should expect that aspects of your physical health should be monitored at the same time. You might also have access to a specialist to give you advice about diet and food but this shouldn’t be the only treatment you’re offered. You may be prescribed medication for anorexia as a part of your treatment plan. Make sure your doctors tell you about any side effects the medication might cause and make a note of them on your medical records.

Inpatient treatment is offered to patients of anorexia if your physical health is very poor or your team think that you might be at risk of harming yourself in some way. If you’re in outpatient treatment and have either not improved or your illness is getting worse, inpatient care may also be recommended. Inpatient treatment is likely to be located further away from your home than outpatient treatment but it should be within reasonable travelling distance.

To find out information about treatment available in your area take a look at our Helpfinder – a directory of eating disorder support services.

Treatment for bulimia

Self-help may be recommended by your GP as a first step on the road to your recovery. This might mean that you’re recommended books and you may like to ask for support from your primary care team to follow this course. Beat has a section on self help detailing online support and books reviewed by staff members and volunteers, do take a look to see if you find any useful.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often offered to those who do not find self-help treatment works for them. Treatment should comprise of up to 20 sessions and last for around four or five months. The other psychological treatment recommended in the NICE guidelines is interpersonal therapy (IPT) which should follow CBT if unsuccessful or you would prefer to follow this line of treatment.

Medication can be offered alongside a programme of self-help or talking therapies. They can help you to reduce the number of times you are bingeing and purging.

In the majority of cases all treatment for bulimia will be as an outpatient but if your physical health is of concern or you are at risk of hurting yourself, inpatient treatment might be suggested.

To find out information about treatment available in your area take a look at our HelpFinder – a directory of eating disorder support services.

Treatment for binge eating disorder

Self-help is often the first suggestion for the treatment of binge eating disorder. Your GP might recommend books or self-help courses. Remember that Beat provides self help support too, our Helpline, online support groups, message boards, emotional overeating support groups (online and in your local area) and reviewed books are all there to help you in your recovery journey.

Following self-help and if your binge eating disorder is persistent, psychological treatment might be recommended: cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) and modified dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) might be some options that your doctors discuss with you. You should be able to have some input in the treatment path you follow.

Medication is also sometimes recommended as either an alternative or accompaniment to self-help or talking therapies. Similar drugs used to treat depression might be suggested by your doctor. Sometimes this alone can help to reduce the behaviour patterns associated with binge eating disorder.

It is unusual for someone with binge eating disorder to be admitted as an inpatient but you might be asked to attend day services which advise about planning meals and further understanding of diet and nutrition.

To find out information about treatment available in your area take a look at our HelpFinder.

Issue date: July 2014
Review date: July 2017
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Sources used to create this information are available by contacting Beat on 0300 123 3355 or emailing We welcome your feedback on our information resources and whether you found them helpful. Email with your comments.