The study investigated factors influencing failure to engage among a group of bulimic and binge eating disordered clients referred to a supervised self-help programme. A total of 125 patients referred to a supervised self-help programme for people with bulimia and binge eating disorder were grouped into those who were seen in treatment (n = 85), and those who failed to engage i.e. did not attend their initial appointment (n = 40). Diagnosis, age, gender and waiting times of the two groups were compared. Diagnosis, age and gender were not significantly different between the two groups. The only significant factor measured was the length of time that they had waited between being referred to the service and their appointment date. Clients who waited less than 4 weeks were 2.4 times more likely to attend their appointment. For every week that lapsed between referral and appointment date, the odds of attending were reduced by 15% (p = 0.002). The results are discussed in light of the importance of maximizing engagement in treatment. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.