person holding apple beside vegetables

Only about 20% of people struggling with an eating disorder seek treatment, and an even smaller fraction get evidence-based care that works.

Eating disorders are both more common and more serious than most people think. About 10% of the American population will be affected by one in their lifetime, and they have the second highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, killing someone every 52 minutes. The problem is worsening, fueled by the twin forces of the pandemic and social media: reported eating disorders are up 70% since Covid-19 first hit, and platforms like Instagram and TikTok have been shown to exacerbate both body image distress and eating disorders.

Making this all more concerning is the fact that people aren’t getting help: only about 20% of people struggling with an eating disorder seek treatment, and an even smaller fraction get evidence-based care that works. Plus, many people won’t even get a diagnosis because of stereotypes about who gets eating disorders (hint: it’s not just thin, affluent, white cis-girls). Eating disorders affect people equally across body size, socioeconomic status, race, and gender.

Now for some good news: with the right treatment, lasting recovery is possible for everyone with an eating disorder. The problem is access. Equip, a national virtual eating disorder treatment program, is working to combat that problem by making evidence-based eating disorder treatment accessible to everyone who needs it. 

What does traditional eating disorder treatment look like? And how does Equip's FBT model differ?

The most popular traditional eating disorder treatment uses a residential model, meaning patients live in a location away from home while in treatment. Unfortunately, while treatment in these facilities may feel good, they don’t work long term: relapse rates are high and many patients are discharged back into “real life” only to be readmitted. What’s more, these residential facilities require young people to leave home, school, extracurriculars, jobs, friends, and family—and the price tag is often steep.

Traditional treatment also includes lower levels of in-person care, like Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) or Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP), in which a patient spends a certain number of hours each day at the program. We put together a guide to the different eating disorder treatment options (and all their associated acronyms!) that can be helpful for families navigating the landscape. 

Unlike traditional treatment, Equip care is fully virtual so patients can stay at home and be supported by their loved ones. Our approach builds on Family-Based Treatment (FBT), the evidence-based care for young people with eating disorders, with a dedicated 5-person provider team including a medical provider, dietitian, and therapist, as well as peer and family mentors who have been there.

With FBT, healthy family members create a pro-recovery environment by helping manage all meals, monitor eating disorder behaviors, and practice recovery skills alongside their loved one. They do this with the support of their Equip team, who provide the resources and guidance to cope with the challenges of treatment while moving toward recovery. 

Everything about our model is rooted in evidence. Research has shown FBT is the only well-established treatment for young people with eating disorders, and it has also found that mortality rates are lower for patients with anorexia who received outpatient care vs inpatient care. We know that to give someone the best shot at recovery, they need to recover at home, with the help of their loved ones, and we built our treatment around that belief system. 

Why is the virtual aspect of Equip's care model important? Is virtual eating disorder care evidence-based?

Equip is virtual by design, not by accident. 

First, virtual treatment fits into a family’s life, rather than them upending their lives to fit around treatment. Traditional care often means long commutes to and from appointments, or even relocating to a different part of the country. It also means needing to press pause on many things in life, including work, activities, trips, or other kids’ needs. Virtual care removes these big barriers.

Virtual treatment also eliminates many of the financial and geographic obstacles that prevent people from accessing treatment: anyone in all 50 states plus D.C. can access our virtual treatment, and our treatment is a fraction of the cost of in-person care and covered by most major insurance plans. Additionally, residential treatment is too often inaccessible to people with disabilities; virtual care eliminates that barrier. Virtual treatment eliminates waitlists so families don’t face months-long waits when they need care urgently. 

Virtual FBT means that as a patient recovers, they are doing so within the very network that will support their recovery long-term. Their family (and/or chosen family) are part of treatment, becoming educated about eating disorders, learning coping skills, and receiving their own ongoing support. When someone goes away to in-person treatment, their recovery exists in a vacuum, and when they return home, their support network isn’t equipped to prevent relapse.

Along with all these benefits, research shows that virtual care works. A 2021 pilot study found no differences between eating disorder treatment delivered in-person vs the same care delivered virtually, and our own breakthrough paper from 2022 found that not only does virtual FBT work, it works just as effectively as in-person treatment.

How is Equip working to make its services more accessible? 

Only a fraction of eating disorder patients in the U.S. get treatment that works, due, in part, to a nationwide provider scarcity and cost-prohibitive care. We’re tackling the first problem by continuing to grow our team of qualified, trained providers. Given our virtual model, we’re able to have much larger provider networks as we’re scaling our team to meet patient demand and diversity.

To tackle cost head-on, we’ve partnered with 10+ major commercial insurance providers, including Cigna, Aetna, Anthem, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Medicaid in California. For the few who do need to pay out of pocket, the cost is more manageable than traditional care. 

Lastly, many people with eating disorders go undiagnosed due to pervasive misconceptions around who gets eating disorders and what they look like. That’s why one of our primary goals is to change the cultural conversation around eating disorders, diet culture, and weight stigma. We actively participate in the discourse around bodies and eating disorders in the public and the eating disorder to field to make sure everyone can feel safe in their bodies.