The aim of this study was to examine the trans-theoretical model of change in 51 anorexia nervosa and 58 bulimia nervosa patients attending a specialist clinic. Self-report questionnaires were completed as to the stage of change, decisional balance, and processes of change before initial assessment. Of the BN patients 80% were in a stage of action compared to only half of the AN patients. There was a shift in decisional balance between the stages of change. The strong principle of change was supported in that the pros of change were increased by over 1 standard deviation from precontemplation to action. The weak principle of change was not supported as there was less shift in the cons. Few processes were used in precontemplation, self re-evaluation was increased in contemplation and self liberation in action. The trans-theoretical model of change appears to be applicable to patients with eating disorders. These preliminary findings suggest ways in which therapy can be targeted to maximize the level of motivation and to promote change itself. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.