The Low-Down On Eating Disorder Treatment
By: Masha Sardari MS, RD, LDN
Published: October 17, 2023

Seeking residential treatment for an eating disorder (ED) takes courage. If you’re considering this step, I applaud you for it.

It may end up being the best decision you will ever make in your life.

Going to treatment is going to give you the chance to acquire the mindset and tools you need to get your life back. To finally leave behind the ever-present minefield of food, eating, and body image obsessions you may’ve been stepping through for goodness knows how long.

Bottom line: You deserve better. Getting treatment is a great place to start.

Before we get to the inside scoop on ED residential care, a little about me. I’m the lead dietitian here at Koru Spring. I have a Masters in Nutrition, and I guide our residents using the Health At Every Size (HAES) and Intuitive and Mindful Eating philosophies.

I offer nutrition counseling, medical nutrition therapy, and work with our residents to help them improve their relationship with and attitude toward food and eating. I provide support with meals, meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and restaurant exposures, and I help residents reconnect with food and nutrition in a harmonious way.

Without further ado, here’s what to know about ED treatment.

Length of treatment depends on various factors.

The optimal length of stay in ED treatment is … as long as is necessary. Sounds inexact, and it is, because everyone is different, and everyone gets better at a different rate.

Length of stay can range anywhere from 45 to 60 days, often more. You need that time to get physically and mentally stabilized. The body needs to return to its natural equilibrium, and you can’t rush biology. Or psychology. Without sufficient physiological restoration, you won’t be fully receptive to therapy, and you won’t be able to move forward with your recovery in a meaningful, sustainable way.

It also takes time for you and your clinical and therapy teams to determine if any co-occurring conditions are underlying or exacerbating your eating disorder. And please know co-occurring conditions are quite common, especially depression, anxiety disorder, trauma, and substance use disorder. All these factors will affect length of stay in treatment.

The best ED treatment centers use a team approach.

This is important and hopefully reassuring if you’re considering ED treatment—that you will have an entire team supporting you. No matter if you have physical, emotional, or spiritual challenges as part of your ED, we will help you work through them as a team, with you at the center of that team.

ED treatment tends to be an amazingly supportive community, and I’m including your fellow residents in that community. Very much so. Peers often become a significant part of a person’s successful recovery.

We do fun things at ED treatment.

Yes, ED treatment is challenging. Yes, it’s intense at times, and can feel very personal. But those are all things and feelings that usually need to happen on the way to getting better.

But here’s the thing: We also have a lot of fun in treatment. We do things that will make you happy. We find joy in food and in eating (yes, you heard that right!). We try new foods, new recipes, and we have a lot of laughs during our meals together.

It’s true, there will be tough times, but all meaningful journeys involve difficult moments. We ask our residents to see their time in treatment as a learning opportunity. And the subject of your learning is the most fascinating one of all: you.

We treat the whole you, not just the eating disorder.

Let’s return to those co-occuring conditions for a minute, because they’re often key to a person’s complete recovery. (Note: Co-occurring conditions go in the opposite direction as well. As in, a person whose primary mental health illness is substance use disorder may also have an eating disorder present.)

If you come to us with an eating disorder, and it becomes clear that something else is going on (anxiety disorder, PTSD, etc.), we will treat both conditions simultaneously and comprehensively. Treating one condition doesn’t make the other condition(s) go away by magic.

In other words, we don’t do “tunnel vision” ED treatment at Koru Spring. Rather, we take a holistic approach, and make sure we cover all the variables with an integrated treatment plan.

Coping skills you learn for one mental health condition can often be applied to other conditions.

This is a key point, and it’s good news for people dealing with co-occurring conditions. A good example is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, which is a common and highly successful type of therapy used in the mental health world. CBT teaches you to be more aware of destructive or inaccurate thinking so you can view challenges or situations more clearly, and therefore respond to them in a more positive way.

CBT and other therapies can help in the treatment of eating disorders, PTSD, depression, substance use disorder, and other mental health conditions. It works for impulse control, urges (to use, to purge, etc.), and other problematic thoughts that affect behaviors.

You will be supported and guided when you leave residential care.

When you leave treatment, you leave with an aftercare plan. This is absolutely critical.

Why? Because the real test is out there, after you leave the structured environment of residential treatment and are back in the world. That’s why we put so much time and effort into our aftercare planning.

And it’s not just us clinicians who are creating it. It’s not like your therapist or clinician says “surprise!” and hands you your aftercare plan as you’re heading out the door.

Rather, you have input on your plan from day one of your stay. We work on it together, and constantly update it, so you know exactly what you need to do the minute you leave us. It’s so empowering to have a plan for the next step in your ED recovery.

Taking the next step: An important part of your aftercare plan is stepping down to less intensive levels of care once you leave treatment. That’s standard procedure.

For example, people often go from residential to a partial hospitalization program (PHP). While in PHP, you continue to receive therapy and other kinds of programming every day while living off-campus in a structured and supportive setting.

Point being, we are going to connect you with the support you need when you leave us.

Even if you’re doing great and feeling confident in the tools and skills you learned in treatment, we will strongly urge you to continue with your care in a step-down manner. Decades of research has shown that’s the best way forward to a successful long-term recovery.


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