Clinical Services

The University of Chicago Eating Disorders Program offers the following clinical services to adolescents and adults with eating disorders.

Eating Disorders Assessment

Assessments are needed in order to make proper diagnoses and recommendations for treatment. Our program has an extensive assessment process to ensure that the treatments we provide will be a good fit for you or your child/loved one’s needs. The initial assessment procedure involves a combination of self-report questionnaires and interviews that ask about eating disorder symptoms, as well as other psychiatric concerns. We also measure the patient’s height and weight, and collect bloodwork and other laboratory information. Adult patients can complete assessments on their own. We ask that adolescent patients be accompanied by their parent(s) or legal guardian(s), who also will complete the assessment process. In some cases, we require medical clearance from a primary care provider or pediatrician to make sure it is safe for you or your child/loved one to be treated in an outpatient setting.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

The goals and length of outpatient eating disorders treatment depend on the special needs of each patient. Typically, treatment focuses on eating disorder symptoms (e.g., restrictive eating, binge eating, purging), as well as emotional and interpersonal concerns. However, if a patient experiences significant anxiety, depression, or relationship problems, these conditions also will be assessed and treated at the Eating Disorders Program.

In general, our program uses manualized treatment approaches that have received extensive clinical and research support. Because eating disorders can have serious medical consequences, our program also will facilitate appropriate medical management either through the Pediatric or Primary Care Departments at The University of Chicago Hospitals.

Adolescent Eating Disorders Treatment

Adolescents typically are treated using Family Based Treatment (FBT), in which the initial focus is on putting parents temporarily in charge of helping to reduce control that the eating disorder has over their child's life. The first stage of FBT focuses on weight restoration and reduction of eating disorder symptoms.  Once the eating disorder is under control, parents return control over eating back to their child and help him/her with normal developmental tasks. FBT typically addresses eating disorder issues in 20-25 sessions that are scheduled over 10-12 months.

Adult Eating Disorders Treatment

Adults typically are treated using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which focuses on normalizing eating behavior, eliminating unhealthy methods of weight-control (e.g., excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, laxative misuse), and decreasing the degree to which concerns about eating, weight, and body shape affect the way patients feel about themselves. CBT involves self-monitoring of eating behavior, as well as thoughts and feelings related to eating, weight, and body shape. CBT also includes re-introduction of avoided foods, techniques designed to challenge negative beliefs about eating, weight, and body shape, and regular weighing. For patients with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, CBT typically is short-term (i.e., 20 sessions). For underweight patients, CBT lasts longer (i.e., 40 sessions).

For some patients, CBT may be supplemented with strategies from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and newer treatments for eating disorders (e.g., Emotion Acceptance Behavior Therapy, Integrative Cognitive Affective Therapy). These approaches can be especially helpful for patients whose eating disorder symptoms are affected by their emotions. Supplemental strategies also can be useful for patients with co-occurring psychiatric problems, such as self-injury, suicidality, and substance use.

Collaboration with the Center for the Surgical Treatment of Obesity

Our program works with the Center for the Surgical Treatment of Obesity  at The University of Chicago Medicine to provide psychosocial assessment and treatment services to patients seeking bariatric surgery. Our services include:

  • Pre-surgery assessments
  • Post-surgery assessments
  • Support groups
  • Psychoeducation and recommendations for further intervention, as needed
  • Brief psychotherapy