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Anorexia - What treatments work for anorexia?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

If you have anorexia, you worry a lot about the way your body looks and about how much you weigh. You have an intense fear of being fat, and you starve yourself to lose weight. Having anorexia can seriously damage your health, and it may kill you.

Key points about treating anorexia

  • To recover from anorexia, you'll need to do three important things: start to eat more food, put on weight, and change how you think about yourself and food.

  • There's very little good research about treatments for anorexia, so we can't say for certain what will work.

  • Doctors agree that the best treatment is to eat more to gain weight. But there's very little research about the best way to encourage someone with anorexia to eat normally again.

  • There are no drugs that can 'cure' anorexia.

  • Psychotherapy (talking treatment) may work, especially if you feel depressed. It tries to help you become well by making you feel better about yourself. But there hasn't been enough research to prove it works.

  • Involving the whole family, maybe with family therapy, may help to stop anorexia becoming a long-term problem.

  • You're more likely to get better if you get treatment early.

To learn more about the kind of treatment you might get for anorexia, see What you can expect from the NHS.

What you can expect from the NHS

If you've got anorexia, you won't probably need to go to hospital. But you'll be cared for mainly by doctors and specialists based in hospital, as well as your GP.

We can't say exactly how you'll be treated. But we can give you some idea about the way anorexia is treated in general.[36]

  • You may see lots of different people who have special training in treating eating disorders. For example, you might see a specialist nurse, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a counsellor. If you're under 16, you might see a paediatrician (a doctor who specialises in treating children).

  • You'll probably get some form of psychotherapy. This might be cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), cognitive analytic therapy (CAT), interpersonal therapy, focal psychodynamic therapy, or family therapy.

  • If you're under 18, you'll probably have some psychotherapy sessions with your family and some on your own. If you have brothers or sisters, they may be included in family therapy sessions.

  • As well as psychotherapy, you should have regular checks on your weight and health.

  • You might also be given some vitamins to take.

  • Your psychotherapy will probably last at least 12 months.

  • Drug treatments aren't used very much in anorexia, and they shouldn't usually be used on their own. Instead, they should be used alongside psychological therapies.

  • You may see a dietitian as part of your treatment. But this shouldn't be the only treatment you get.

  • If you're under 18, you shouldn't be treated with oestrogen, as it can stop your bones growing properly.

  • If you're not getting better, you may be offered treatment in hospital. You might spend one day in hospital, or stay a few days or weeks to help you over a crisis. Or you may stay in hospital for a few weeks or months to help you get back to a healthy weight.

  • You'll only be fed against your will if your life is in severe danger and doctors can't be sure that you are going to eat. You have to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act (if you're an adult) or the Children Act (if you're under 18) to be fed against your will.

  • If you're treated in hospital, doctors won't stop you having visits or making phone calls if you don't put on weight.

  • You should get some form of psychological therapy in hospital. This should carry on when you go home. It should help you continue getting better and stop you needing to go to hospital again.

Last Updated: September 19, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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