We conducted a prospective exploration of the temporal course of eating disorder (ED) symptoms in two cohorts of community women. One hundred and twenty-two young women (Cohort 1) identified in a general population based survey with ED symptoms of clinical severity agreed to participate in a 5-year follow-up study. A comparative sample (Cohort 2) of 706 similar aged self-selected college women (221 with disordered eating) was recruited one year later. Both ED groups were given a health literacy package in the first year. ED symptoms, health related quality of life, and psychological distress were assessed annually with the Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire, the Short Form-12 Health Survey and the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, respectively. Forty percent (Cohort 1) and 30.3% (Cohort 2) completed questionnaires at each year of follow-up. In both groups, there was early improvement in ED symptoms which plateaued after the first year, and participants retained high EDE-Q scores at 5 years. BMI increased as expected. Mental health related quality of life scores did not change but there were small improvements in psychological distress scores. The findings suggest little likelihood of spontaneous remission of ED problems in community women.