Eating Disorder Treatment: Therapy and Counseling

For those struggling with an eating disorder, finding the right mental health treatment can be an overwhelming and daunting task. There are a variety of treatment options available which will be detailed on this page.

Eating disorders are severe and complex mental health conditions that affect one’s emotional and physical health.

Included on This Page:

What are Eating Disorders?

Woman biting her lip looking worried

People with eating disorders develop unhealthy relationships with food, body weight, or appearance. These conditions are characterized by severe and consistent disturbances in eating behaviors and distressing thoughts and emotions related to these behaviors.

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are all eating disorders. Several factors, such as personality, mental health issues, genetics, brain biology, and social or cultural ideals, can cause eating disorders. While people with untreated eating disorders can potentially develop life-threatening problems, these conditions are treatable if the proper treatment plan and support are in place.

Eating disorders often involve fixation on food, body shape or weight, anxiety about eating, or perceived consequences of consuming certain foods. Behaviors associated with eating disorders can include:

  • Avoidance of certain foods
  • Restrictive eating
  • Binge eating
  • Compulsive exercise or the need to “earn” the ability to eat food through exercise
  • Purging by forced vomiting
  • Laxative misuse

Behaviors seen in eating disorders can appear incredibly similar to an addiction and have the potential to even feel like an addiction to those who have this condition.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are a few different types of eating disorders, and some individuals may have more than one type of eating disorder simultaneously. The types of eating disorders include:

Anorexia nervosa

Individuals with anorexia nervosa significantly restrict calories and food, which can sometimes get to the point of self-starvation. Although people of any body size can struggle with anorexia nervosa, it is characterized by weight loss that results in low body weight for the individual’s age and height. It also involves an obsession with losing weight and a refusal or hesitation to eat healthy quantities of food.

Bulimia nervosa

Individuals with bulimia nervosa typically eat or perceive they’ve eaten large amounts of food in a short period of time. After eating, they may force their body to purge the calories consumed by vomiting, exercising excessively, or using laxatives to rid their bodies of the food and calories they’ve ingested.

Binge eating disorder (BED)

Individuals with a binge eating disorder typically experience self-forced eating behaviors. They will eat or perceive they’ve eaten large amounts of food in a short period of time. After binging, however, they do not try to purge food or burn off calories with excessive exercise. Instead, they struggle with feeling uncomfortably full and can experience guilt, regret, shame, or depression.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

Too Skinny Anorexic woman measuring her waist

People can have an eating disorder at any body weight or size, so you can’t always tell if someone struggles with an eating disorder based on their appearance. Eating disorders are characterized by the way individuals think about food and how they perceive their relationship with it. Because of this, their thoughts about food are not always reflected in their size or weight.

Symptoms of eating disorders can vary based on which type an individual has. It can also be challenging to spot an eating disorder because it often appears to imitate dieting behaviors. Individuals struggling with an eating disorder are likely to feel hesitant in sharing their concerns about food and eating with others. If you or someone you care about has an eating disorder, these are some changes you might notice:

  • Often tired, light-headed, dizzy, or fainting
  • Mood swings
  • Hair loss or hair thinning out
  • Regular trips to the bathroom after eating a meal
  • Drastic weight loss or weight changes that the individual cannot explain
  • Hot flashes or abnormal sweating
  • Dining alone or not wanting to eat with others
  • Obsession with food, calories, nutritional facts, losing weight, or exercise
  • Pulling away from family, friends, or other opportunities to socialize
  • Throwing away food or hiding it out of sight
  • Unusual food rituals such as eating in secret, chewing food longer than needed, or strategically moving food around the plate to make it appear as though they ate more

Complications of Untreated Eating Disorders

Eating disorders should be taken seriously, as they are the second most lethal psychiatric disorder after opioid use disorder. Restricting calories, purging food through throwing up, or excessively exercising can substantially impact someone’s physical health. An eating disorder left untreated can place an individual at risk of developing severe problems such as:

  • Acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD)
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Arrhythmia, heart failure, or other heart problems
  • Organ failure and brain damage
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Stopped menstrual cycles (amenorrhea) and infertility
  • Osteoporosis and tooth damage
  • Severe dehydration and constipation
  • Stroke

Risk Factors for Eating Disorders

A combination of environment, social and cultural factors, and genes play a role in the potential for someone to develop an eating disorder. According to NEDA, approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, and most will develop the condition during adolescence or young adulthood. While eating disorders are more common in women, they can occur at any age and affect any gender. 

Certain risk factors can make someone more likely to develop an eating disorder, such as:

  • A personal history of dieting
  • A personal history of depression, anxiety, or OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • A personal history of sexual, emotional, or physical trauma
  • A family history of mental health issues, including eating disorders, depression, and addiction
  • The tendency to be a perfectionist
  • Type 1 diabetes diagnosis (according to NEDA, girls and women with type 1 diabetes are 2.5 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who do not have diabetes)
  • Significant life changes such as moving, getting a divorce, starting a new job, or beginning at a new school
  • Participating in activities or extracurriculars that focus on maintaining a slender physique (gymnastics, modeling, cheerleading, running, swimming, etc.)

Eating Disorders Treatment

Women eating big sandwiches

Individuals who seek out treatment for eating disorders can often recover and lead healthy lives. It is beneficial to detect the problem as soon as possible and begin treatment immediately.

A healthcare provider works with each individual to decide which treatment or combination of treatments are right for them and their situation. If left untreated, people with eating disorders can develop life-threatening complications, and some may need care at a hospital or treatment center.

Typical goals in eating disorders treatment involve:

  • Ensuring adequate nutrition
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Decreasing extreme exercise
  • Stopping behaviors related to binging or purging

Treatment plans for eating disorders vary depending on the individual’s specific needs and eating disorder type and may include one or a combination of the following:


A mental health professional can work with the individual that has an eating disorder to determine the best psychotherapy for their unique situation and can include family-based therapy. Many individuals with eating disorders see improvement with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This treatment helps the individual understand and change unhelpful thinking patterns that drive behaviors and emotions.

Nutritional counseling

A registered dietitian trained in eating disorders can provide individualized nutrition counseling and support to help individuals develop healthy eating habits. A registered dietician can also provide education on nutrition, create meal plans tailored to the individual’s needs, and offer tips for grocery shopping, meal planning and preparation. 


Some individuals with eating disorders also have other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. Individuals who start taking medication for these conditions can see improvement in their thoughts about themselves and in relation to food.

Eating Disorders Treatment & Counseling Options in Arizona

There are many options for eating disorders treatment in Phoenix & Mesa at Mental Health Center of America. Our therapists use evidence-based treatment options for eating disorders to help you or your loved one create a plan to improve eating disorder behaviors and thoughts related to food. Treatment options offered include:

  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Relational Therapy
  • EMDR
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Trauma-Focused Therapy
  • Mindfulness-Based Interventions

Our therapists collaborate with each client to choose an approach to treatment based on your individual needs and goals and create a custom treatment plan with you. Treatment options for eating disorders may include individual counseling, medication, and neurofeedback.
Eating disorders treatment may also integrate self-care and wellness activities such as cold exposure, heat exposure, and mindfulness. Individuals who commit to eating disorders treatment learn how to manage their behaviors and create a healthier relationship with themselves and food.

Find an Eating Disorders Treatment Center in Phoenix & Mesa, Arizona

Eating disorders can become life-threatening if left untreated. At Mental Health Center of America, we are a specialized eating disorders treatment center and provide treatment shown to improve eating behaviors and help you recover. We are proud to be a top provider of Arizona mental health services and have counselors in Phoenix & Mesa ready to help you improve your relationship with food today.

If you or your loved one struggle with an eating disorder, we encourage you to discuss these concerns with ​a ​mental health professional. Schedule your appointment today to start your path to a healthy life.

Take The First Step

Complete this brief form to schedule your commitment-free assessment at our convenient Phoenix or Mesa locations, or call us at (602) 704-2345, and our helpful staff will assist you.