It can be scary to enter an inpatient treatment facility for the first time, especially if you’re being treated for eating disorder behaviors you may have been struggling with for a long time.
You will have to adjust to a new routine, which can include meetings with doctors, nutritionists, and other healthcare specialists, as well as individual and group therapy sessions. Often, there are aspects of the eating disorder treatment that patients don’t expect when entering a program.
And while less than 1% of American adults experience anorexia nervosa (AN), for those who are affected, the impacts can be serious—or even deadly.  Of all mental health conditions, eating disorders have a mortality rate that is second only to opioid addiction, and AN is often considered the deadliest among these conditions. 
That’s just one reason why residential treatment programs can be so important. While the measures may seem extreme, they exist to help people break away from these harmful, yet powerful, thought and behavioral patterns.
And when there’s a team of treatment professionals to help and support you, it can make the process that much easier, hopefully helping you find the road to long-term recovery.
How to Prepare for Anorexia Inpatient Treatment
When you first arrive at the inpatient unit, your bags will be unpacked and inspected by facility staff, who will look for any materials that could be used to aid disordered behaviors. You may want to keep this in mind when packing, to help make this process less uncomfortable.
Most facility websites list what you are and are not allowed to bring for your stay. Some areas that typically receive a lot of attention include:
- Clothing: Make sure to bring clothes that help you feel comfortable and warm.
- Personal items: You will likely be allowed to bring some things from home, such as a stuffed animal, photos, or a favorite pillow and blanket. But keep in mind that patients often share rooms, so storage—and privacy—can be limited.
- Prescriptions: The facility will likely ask you to bring any medications you’re currently taking. You may be asked to keep these in their prescription bottles, so the facility staff can refill and distribute them to you when needed.
If you’re not feeling well enough to pack, you may want to ask someone you trust to help. But you may feel better supervising the process. The items you bring can serve as sources of comfort or reminders of home, so packing with a mind to your personal needs can be extremely beneficial.
Your Check-In: What to Expect
The team will take your luggage from you, log everything you brought, and give your items back to you. Suitcases are typically stored in a locked room. Backpacks or containers are not allowed in your rooms.
If you bring any medications, including over-the-counter medicine, these will typically be taken by staff. The facility generally takes responsibility for storing and distributing medications, including prescriptions.
After checking in, you’ll be shown to your room and have a moment to settle in before beginning the program.
What Will You Do During the First Days of Anorexia Inpatient Treatment?
Generally, the staff will take some initial medical readings from you on your first day, including your weight, height, and blood pressure.
Meeting with your medical team is also among the first things you’ll do. This can include everyone from a dietician, nutritionist, and therapist, among other medical specialists.
As your medical team begins to learn more about you and your specific medical background and needs, they’ll work to develop a meal plan for you.
Your meal plan is created to ensure you achieve appropriate weight restoration during your inpatient stay. The initial goal is to make sure you’re medically stable. Then, as you begin to physically recover, the plan may transition to serve other needs and health-related goals.
What is A Residential Treatment Program Like?
Residential treatment programs are generally highly regimented. You’ll likely have a full schedule each day, with things to do from wakeup to bedtime.
You may have meetings with various members of your medical team, undergo individual or group therapy, participate in mandatory mealtimes, and possibly engage in other activities, such as art or mindfulness practices, that help create a peaceful and productive atmosphere.
Regardless of the specifics, the focus of these programs is on offering support and treatment for your condition, which is achieved through reflection and introspection, skill development, and the comfort provided by the structure of the program itself.
A typical day in an inpatient program for anorexia nervosa may look like:
You’ll likely have an early wake-up time, in order to fit everything into your day. Staff may check in on you at a certain point, to make sure you’re up and getting ready for the day.
When you awake, you can use the bathroom and prepare for the day. The staff monitors bathroom visits, so all residents have equal time.
Individual and group therapy sessions are common in these programs, and may happen several times a week or every day, depending on your individual treatment plan.
These types of activities can help you understand more about your AN diagnosis and the factors in your past and present that have contributed to it. You’ll also be taught critical skills to help you cope with potential triggers and avoid future relapse.
Inpatient facilities typically have a staff physician on visits (or rounds). This doctor will visit with or be responsible for treating the patients in the facility during their shift.
This doctor will likely visit with you throughout your stay, and be tasked with checking your weight, taking your blood pressure, and checking in on any other physical symptoms you may be experiencing.
In most inpatient treatment facilities for anorexia nervosa, meals or snacks occur every two to three hours. If you don’t or can’t finish your meal or snack, you’ll likely be given a high-calorie drink or other replacement. Meals will also be assigned according to your individual meal plan.
All meals are prepared by kitchen staff who are chefs or students within dietetic programs. This can vary from program to program. Many programs also have counselors or other aids who may sit with you during meals, in case you need or want someone to talk to or help you get through the experience.
After meals, you’ll likely work with your team for up to an hour to process your feelings about eating. Bathroom breaks are generally not allowed during this time, or monitored by staff.
If you are enrolled at a school, the facility staff may provide tutoring services, and help you with assignments and homework. This is to help keep you on track and ensure you’re receiving an education comparable with your grade level.
Homework can be completed during free time each day, or you can work on art projects, write letters, or participate in other activities.
Some programs offer additional privileges, although these can vary widely and may only be offered to patients who have achieved a certain level of stability or recovery.
Some privileges you may be offered include using an electronic device, family time, or a salon visit.
Bedtime is strictly enforced, as proper rest is considered an important aspect of healing. Residents may be monitored by night staff throughout the night, to ensure they’re sleeping or that there are no night time disturbances.
Sample AN Inpatient Treatment Schedule
The details of your program will depend on a number of factors, including the particular program you’re enrolled in and the specifics of your condition and medical history.
But as an example of how an average day in one of these programs may go, you can expect:
- 6 am: Wake up call, and ready for the day
- 7 am: Weight checks, doctors visits, and vital sign measurements
- 8 am: Breakfast
- 9 am: Process your meal with the supervisor of your table
- 10 am: Therapy
- 12 pm: Lunch
- 1 pm: Process your meal with the supervisor of your table
- 2 pm: Therapy
- 3 pm: Snack
- 4 pm: Schoolwork or free time
- 6 pm: Dinner
- 7 pm: Process your meal with the supervisor of your table
- 8 pm: Snack
- 9 pm: Bedtime
There may also be time set aside for spiritual practices, office hours for staff social workers or coordinators of continued care, and access to other resources.
Each week, you will also likely have at least one session each with your dietician, psychologist or therapist, medical physician, and nurse.
How Long Is Anorexia Inpatient Treatment?
Once again, the specifics of this answer depend entirely on your individual situation.
Many treatment programs are run on a “phase” or “level” system. In these scenarios, you can move up in levels by reaching or achieving certain goals that are set for you. Once you reach a certain level, you’ll be evaluated for release.
This system may also allow you to earn privileges throughout your time in treatment, such as offsite outings. The idea is to help set a healthy pace for your recovery — not rushing things, but working consistently on your recovery goals.
While the hope is always to help you get on the road to recovery, leaving treatment too soon can also be detrimental. Relapse is unfortunately common for people who struggle with anorexia nervosa, with as many as three in four patients only making a partial recovery. 
Indeed, most mental health conditions require long courses of treatment to be effectively managed.  You may stay in your inpatient program for several weeks or even months before entering a less intensive level of care, such as a partial hospitalization program or intensive outpatient treatment.
Is Inpatient Anorexia Care Worth It?
While this answer is entirely personal, inpatient care can go a long way toward helping someone end the self-destructive thoughts and behaviors connected to anorexia nervosa. In many cases, these courses of treatment can literally save someone’s life.
Many people choose inpatient care because they are unable to stop these harmful behaviors on their own. Other people may require medical stabilization, and this level of care is the first step.
If you feel overwhelmed by your home life, school, or work, it may also be helpful to enter a residential facility. This can help separate you from stressful and potentially triggering situations in your everyday life, which can serve to sustain your unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.
And a residential program not only helps give you a strong foundation of understanding your diagnosis and the skills needed to manage it, but it can help you build a strong support network, which is often a crucial aspect of long-term recovery.
You’ll meet members of your treatment team, as well as other patients involved in the program, who can all offer support and an understanding ear. As your recovery advances, you may also find it helpful to share your experiences with and help newer patients in the program.
Entering an inpatient facility for anorexia nervosa recovery can be a scary or daunting process, but knowing a bit more about what your experience will be like can help you prepare for your first step into recovery, and hopefully build on a healthier and happier future.
- Eating Disorders. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed July 2022.
- Eating Disorder Statistics. (n.d.). ANAD. Accessed July 2022.
- Leigh, S. (2019, November). Many Patients with Anorexia Nervosa Get Better, But Complete Recovery Elusive to Most. University of California San Francisco. Accessed July 2022.
- How Long Will it Take for Treatment to Work? (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Accessed July 2022.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on April 13, 2023
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com