Difficulties in Treating Eating Disorders

Many difficulties arise in treating eating disorders which can derail the treatment process. Learn about treating eating disorders to avoid these pitfalls.

As with any mental illness, treating eating disorders presents many difficulties. Eating disorders are not just behavioral issues. Treating eating disorders means addressing the patient's relationship with food, co-existing conditions, health, nutrition, habits, environment and the problem that initially triggered the eating disorder. This wide variety of potential problems makes eating disorder treatment a long and sometimes grueling process.

In treating eating disorders, any of the following difficulties may derail a person's progress:

  • Loneliness
  • Backsliding
  • Repeated attempts
  • Self-blame
  • Self-doubt

Loneliness in Treating Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can make people feel like they are fighting the battle alone and that no one understands their struggles. These feelings may make the patient return to their old eating habits. It's important to remember though, many people are involved in treating eating disorders and eating disorders help and eating disorders support are available through:

  • Therapy
  • Support groups
  • Online support groups, forums and discussions
  • Faith groups

Talking to others who are working on recovering can remind the patient they are not alone and this connection can support them through the treatment process.

A Backslide Means Treating the Eating Disorder Has Been a Failure

Often when treating an eating disorder, a patient finds they have reverted back to some of their old eating patterns. The patient may use this as a reason to stop anorexia or bulimia treatment. However, almost all people who have been successful in treating their eating disorder have experienced temporary backsliding; recovery is about "doing the best possible" each day, not about being perfect.

Repeated Attempts at Treatment

One of the difficulties in treating eating disorders is often the repeated attempts the patient has previously made. If the first attempt at treatment didn't work, the patient often thinks it will never work. This feeling of failure may even make an eating disorder worse.

In reality though, treating an eating disorder can take several attempts because there are so many factors involved.

Self-Blame for Not Successfully Treating Eating Disorders

When an attempt at treating an eating disorder doesn't work, it is not the fault of the patient, and is not a failure. The patient may have to try a new treatment. Instead of treating their eating disorder on their own, they may need an outpatient program. They may need another form of therapy, medication, or treatment program. Treating eating disorders does not have a single path; each person needs to find the specific treatment that works for them.


Overcoming an eating disorder is a very big commitment and, for many, a difficult choice to make. When treating their eating disorder, the patient may wonder if the result is worth all the work. Only the individual with anorexia or bulimia can answer that, but it's important to remember treating eating disorders gives the sufferer their life back; they become free from food.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2022, January 4). Difficulties in Treating Eating Disorders, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Last Updated: January 12, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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