What is your current activity level?
🚶 Moderately active
🏃 Very active
This will help us personalize your experience

Does Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment Work?

Published on
Updated on
Does Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment Work?

Table of Contents

Written By:

Key Takeaways

  • Outpatient eating disorder treatments range from full-day care to weekly sessions and includes partial hospital programs (PHP), intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and outpatient care. 
  • Most outpatient programs use a multidisciplinary approach and offer comprehensive physical and mental health services. 
  • Talk to your doctor about the appropriate level of eating disorder treatment based on your symptoms and for treatment program recommendations.

Feeling ready to address an eating disorder is a tremendous step forward in your health journey. 

Outpatient eating disorder treatment programs offer a wide range of services to address physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms.

They can be a more affordable and accessible form of treatment compared to inpatient care. 

In addition, outpatient programs are proven to be effective for treating all types of eating disorders. 

Continue reading to learn more about outpatient eating disorder treatment and whether it may be the right fit for you.


What Is Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment?

There are different levels of treatment for eating disorders depending on symptoms, health complications, and medical history.

Many people start at a higher level of care, such as inpatient or residential, and move down the list throughout their treatment journey, ending with outpatient care. 

  • Inpatient.
  • Residential.
  • Partial hospital program (PHP).
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP).
  • Outpatient. 

More Details About The Programs

Inpatient and residential programs both involve 24/7 care and are generally for individuals needing medical or psychiatric monitoring. 

Outpatient treatment is less intensive and the patient receives care during the day but goes home overnight.

It’s for people who need support, meal supervision, and counseling but are medically stable. 

Options for outpatient eating disorder treatment include PHP, IOP, and outpatient.

Partial hospital programs are usually between six and eight hours each weekday.

Intensive outpatient programs take place a few times per week for around three hours at a time. 

Lastly, outpatient treatment typically involves weekly sessions with providers like therapists and dietitians for ongoing support. 

Benefits of Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment 

Research shows that receiving treatment early in the course of an eating disorder is a predictor of better recovery outcomes.

Outpatient treatment is an excellent option for early intervention because it tends to be more affordable, easier to access, and less disruptive to a person’s life than inpatient care. 

Additionally, studies show that outpatient care can be an effective treatment option for individuals with severe eating disorders as long as they are medically stable. 

Types of Services Offered in Outpatient Treatment Programs 

Outpatient programs can treat most eating disorder patients, from evaluation and diagnosis to medical care and counseling.

However, inpatient treatment is typically recommended for patients with psychiatric or medical complications that require intensive monitoring. 

Psychological Testing and Evaluation   

The first step in treating an eating disorder is to receive a diagnosis.

A primary care doctor or a psychiatrist can diagnose eating disorders in the outpatient setting. 

Your doctor may ask several screening questions during this process, as well as conducting a physical examination. 

Therapies, Psychotherapy, and Counseling  

A psychotherapist is a key member of the eating disorder treatment team.

Outpatient treatment usually involves individual and group therapy by a licensed therapist. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of therapy used to treat eating disorders.

Research shows that people who undergo CBT have fewer eating disorder symptoms and better treatment outcomes. 

Nutrition Education and Meal Support 

Most outpatient treatment programs involve nutritional counseling conducted by a registered dietitian

Nutrition therapy for eating disorders typically involves a meal plan for correcting nutritional deficiencies and restoring weight (if necessary).

It also focuses on improving your relationship with food and your body image. 

Meal support is a service typically offered at PHP and IOP treatment programs.

It often takes place in a group setting and involves a dietitian supervising meal time to ensure everyone’s nutritional needs are met. 

Nourish offers virtual outpatient dietitian services for eating disorders.

Get started today with convenient insurance-covered visits. 

Mental Health Support Groups 

A support group can be a great way to connect with peers and share common struggles and victories both during and after treatment. 

Many outpatient eating disorder treatment programs offer support groups for: 

  • Patients actively in treatment. 
  • People in recovery. 
  • Family members of people with eating disorders. 

Family Therapy 

Family-based treatment (FBT) is a type of therapy often used for managing eating disorders in children and adolescents.

It involves parents in the therapy sessions, teaching them tools to support their child during their treatment journey. 

Research shows that FBT is more effective than individual therapy (no parental involvement) in producing long-term remission in this population. 

Medical Care  

Medical care is sometimes necessary for individuals who develop complications from their eating disorder.

While outpatient treatment is for medically stable individuals, most treatment programs have a medical doctor who supervises care and helps manage any concerns that come up during treatment. 

How To Find A Qualified Treatment Program  

It can be tricky to find an eating disorder treatment program that meets your needs, is covered by insurance, and is accepting new patients. 

If you’re unsure where to start, you can ask your primary care doctor for a recommendation or search outpatient programs using this National Eating Disorder Association tool. 

It’s important to always ask about the credentials of the providers you choose to work with.

For example, a registered dietitian with a CEDRD certification has undergone training specific to eating disorders, whereas a nutritionist likely does not have the same experience. 


Aftercare and Relapse Prevention 

Eating disorder recovery is not a linear journey, and relapses can occur after you’ve completed treatment.

It may be helpful to continue outpatient psychotherapy or nutrition counseling on a less frequent basis after your eating disorder treatment program is over. 

Relapses are more common during major life changes, such as starting a new job, moving away, or losing a loved one.

Ongoing therapy can offer support and help you build awareness of potential triggers for disordered thoughts and behaviors.

It’s also important to build a solid support network of loved ones you can rely on to identify warning signs of a relapse.

The Role of Medication in Eating Disorder Treatment 

In addition to psychological and nutritional care, your doctor may recommend specific medications to help treat your eating disorder. 

While a wide range of medications may be beneficial for managing eating disorders, the FDA has currently approved two medications for treating bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder

Medication therapy for anorexia nervosa has shown limited effectiveness so far, though ongoing research is in progress. 

Mood disorders like depression and anxiety can co-occur with eating disorders, and while treatment of the eating disorder can help mood, medication for these conditions may also be necessary. 

Costs of Outpatient Eating Disorder Treatment Programs  

The cost of an outpatient eating disorder treatment program will vary based on your location, insurance coverage, and the level of care you need.

If you live in a high-cost-of-living area and seek care at a private practice, you can expect to pay more than in other locations.

Many people in the United States are unable to access the eating disorder treatment they need due to a lack of insurance coverage and high out-of-pocket costs.

On average, outpatient treatment costs $150 per session, while a higher level of care, like an intensive outpatient program (IOP), costs around $1,500 per week. 

When to Seek Emergency Medical Attention for an Eating Disorder? 

Depending on your medical history and current symptoms, a higher level of care than outpatient may be necessary.

Your care team may recommend a residential or inpatient hospital stay involving overnight care.

Because eating disorders can negatively affect your major organ systems, some symptoms constitute a medical emergency.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Seizure. 
  • Very low blood pressure. 
  • Very low heart rate.
  • Vomiting blood.
  • Dehydration.
  • Severe abdominal pain.
  • Chest pain.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Suicidal ideation.


Outpatient eating disorder treatment programs offer varying levels of care, from full-day treatment to short weekly sessions.

They provide comprehensive services, including medical care, psychotherapy, and nutritional counseling. 

Your doctor or psychiatrist can assess your symptoms and help you determine if outpatient care is appropriate for you.

Outpatient treatment is a great option for many people because it is more affordable, flexible, and easier to access than inpatient care. 

How a Dietitian Can Help

You can heal your relationship with food and learn how to overcome your disordered eating thoughts and behaviors with the help of a registered dietitian. 

Look for a dietitian with a CEDRD certification (certified eating disorder registered dietitian) and experience treating eating disorders. 


Frequently Asked Questions

What is outpatient eating disorder treatment?

Outpatient eating disorder treatment is for people without severe medical complications and involves daytime care (no overnight stays). 

Outpatient eating disorder treatment programs are available in three different levels of care

  • Partial hospital program (PHP): 6-8 hours per weekday.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP): 3 hours per day, a few days per week. 
  • Outpatient care: Shorter sessions that may be weekly, biweekly, or monthly.

Which eating disorder is the most prevalent in outpatient settings?

The most common eating disorder in outpatient treatment settings is binge eating disorder, a condition characterized by eating larger-than-normal volumes of food in a sitting, accompanied by feeling a lack of control and intense guilt. 

How do I choose between inpatient and outpatient eating disorder treatment?

The primary care doctor or psychiatrist who diagnoses your eating disorder will help assess whether inpatient or outpatient care is most appropriate for you.

Generally, inpatient care is for people who need medical or psychiatric monitoring around the clock. 

Outpatient eating disorder treatment centers tend to have specific criteria for accepting patients and often offer free consultations to help you determine which level of care you need.


View all references
Nourish has strict sourcing policies and prioritizes primary sources, including medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about our medical review process and editorial guidelines.

See a Registered Dietitian with Nourish

  • Covered by insurance
  • Virtual sessions
  • Personalized care
Schedule an appointment

Frequently asked questions

No items found.

Book an appointment with a {category} dietitian

Covered by insurance.

Book an appointment with an online dietitian

Covered by insurance.

Mental Health
Text Link
Intuitive Eating
Text Link
Text Link
Text Link
Text Link
Text Link
Text Link
Hormonal Health
Text Link
Weight Stabilization
Text Link
Bariatric Surgery
Text Link
Weight Gain
Text Link
Weight Loss
Text Link
High Cholesterol
Text Link
High Blood Pressure
Text Link
Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED)
Text Link
Type 2 Diabetes
Text Link
Type 1 Diabetes
Text Link
Gestational Diabetes
Text Link
Text Link
Multiple Sclerosis
Text Link
Celiac Disease
Text Link
Ulcerative Colitis
Text Link
GERD / Acid Reflux
Text Link
Crohn’s Disease
Text Link
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
Text Link
Binge Eating
Text Link
Text Link
Text Link
Food Allergies
Text Link
Sports and Performance Nutrition
Text Link
Eating Disorder
Text Link
Autoimmune Disease
Text Link
Thyroid Disorders
Text Link
Text Link
Text Link
Healthy Aging
Text Link
Women's Health
Text Link
Weight Concerns
Text Link
Text Link
Pre or Postnatal Nutrition
Text Link
Pediatric Nutrition
Text Link
Liver Disease
Text Link
Kidney Disease
Text Link
Heart Health
Text Link
Gut Health
Text Link
General Health
Text Link
Emotional Eating
Text Link

Find a

dietitian covered by insurance

No items found.
Mental Health
Intuitive Eating