Early Response to Eating Disorder Treatment

An early response to eating disorder treatment is a strong predictor of a good outcome.

Does it matter how quickly eating disorder symptoms decrease when starting treatment? Yes, it absolutely does.

An abundance of evidence accumulated over the last 20 years reinforces that early response to treatment is a strong predictor of a good outcome. Those who experience symptomatic improvement within the first few weeks of treatment fare better overall. For example, if we see a reduction in binge eating or purging – or in the case of anorexia nervosa, an increase in weight – within eight weeks of initiating therapy, chances are the individual will:

  • require significantly fewer treatment sessions to complete treatment
  • have lower scores (a good thing) on symptom measures at the end of treatment
  • be twice as likely to achieve full remission
  • be more likely to maintain recovery long term

Slow and steady doesn’t necessarily “win the race.” Rather, a sprint at the start sets patients up for a better outcome.

This is a big deal. To think that people can actually have a sense in the first few weeks of treatment, that they’re achieving a greater potential for a full recovery. Consider how this knowledge might motivate individuals to jump into treatment and push through the inevitable challenges of early therapy. Think about the confidence that might come along with traction in these early weeks, knowing that there is a brighter future ahead.

What time frame is considered early for change in treatment?

There is some debate in the field. Studies vary in their definitions of these early weeks, with most studies referencing between three to 10 weeks from the start of treatment as the early period (e.g., Haas, Hill, Lambert & Morell, 2002; Hilbert et al., 2019; Lock, Couturier, Bryson, & Agras, 2006; MacDonald, McFarlane, Dionne, David, & Olmsted, 2017).

Read the rest of this post on Psychology Today under Essential Reads about Eating Disorders or on Melissa’s blog, The Road to Recovery.