Objectives. The aim of the study was to examine future-directed thinking in individuals with eating disorders, given the possible role of such cognitions in the maintenance of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Method. Twenty-six anorexics, 18 bulimics and 34 female controls were interviewed using the 'Future Thinking Task', assessing quantitative and qualitative aspects of positive and negative anticipated events. Results. Patients with anorexia. nervosa had similar levels of positive future-oriented cognitions and significantly more negative future-oriented cognitions than controls. The most common positive themes in this group concerned the social/interpersonal and leisure/pleasure domains. The negative theme most commonly mentioned by anorexics was that of their own health, followed by the social/interpersonal domain, whereas controls were most preoccupied with achievement/failure and a broad range of other issues. Bulimics had significantly fewer positive future-oriented cognitions and significantly more negative future-oriented cognitions than controls, most commonly concerning the patient's own health. Conclusion. In anorexia nervosa, anticipated positive future outcomes may to some extent help to maintain the disorder; however, these patients are also highly preoccupied with the possibility of negative future outcomes, i.e. a failure of recovery. Bulimia nervosa sufferers are relatively hopeless about their future. The clinical implications of these findings are discussed.