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Teen Eating Disorder Treatment

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First of all, it is important to know that teen eating disorders are serious. It can be one of a parent’s worst nightmares—a child becoming dangerously thin or overweight. As a result, it can get to the point that health is being drastically affected.

Teen Eating Disorder Treatment

Arm yourself with the facts. This is key. It is important to understand what an eating disorder is. In addition, we must know how it can be treated. Therefore, learn the steps to take so both you and your teen overcome this devastating illness.

It is important to remember that you are not alone. According to research from the National Institute of Mental Health, 3.8 percent of girls and 1.5 percent of boys between the ages of 13 and 17 have an eating disorder.

Help is available to treat your child’s eating disorder. Therefore, the first step is to educate yourself about eating disorders.

Types of Eating Disorders

The term eating disorder describes an addiction to or an aversion to food. There are several types of eating disorders. In addition, each type ranges from mild to severe. All are serious medical and psychological conditions. Therefore, these disorders need to be addressed by professionals. Consequently, the four primary types of eating disorders are:

Anorexia Nervosa

The most commonly referred to eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. This disorder is characterized by several symptoms, including:

  • Extreme weight loss and thin, even skeletal appearance
  • A distorted body image
  • Lack of menstruation
  • Denial of weight loss or extremely low weight
  • Restrictive eating habits or compulsive calorie counting
  • An obvious and concerning fear of weight gain

Teens who suffer from this treatable illness are 18 times more likely to die at an early age.

The health effects of severe cases of anorexia nervosa range. They can include brittle hair and nails to brain damage, multi-organ failure, and even death.

Other long-term effects include:

  • Lanugo—the growth of fine hairs all over the body
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing and pulse rate
  • Anemia
  • Dry, yellowish skin
  • Osteoporosis and osteopenia (a thinning of the bones)
  • Dangerously severe constipation
  • Lack of energy, lethargy or sluggish energy levels, weakness

Bulimia Nervosa

Individuals who suffer from bulimia nervosa may have a healthy body weight or be slightly overweight.

The main characteristic of bulimia is the binge-and-purge cycle. One with bulimia may binge excessively and then take steps to mitigate the weight gain. As a result, teens may force themselves to vomit, use diuretics or laxatives to eliminate waste, or exercise to burn the calories.

Those who suffer from bulimia, like their anorexic counterparts, often suffer from a poor or distorted body image. Therefore, they often want to lose weight. In addition, they feel as though they are inferior due to their body shape, size, or weight.

The effects associated with bulimia can be severe. They include:

  • Worn tooth enamel or decaying teeth due to overexposure to stomach acid
  • Severe dehydration
  • Intestinal disorders from malnutrition and the overuse of laxatives
  • Acid reflux and other painful digestive disorders
  • Chronic sore throats or inflamed glands of the neck or throat
  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to heart attack

Teens suffering from Bulimia Nervosa may succumb to the need to binge a few times per week or several times a day. Hence, you must be observant of behaviors.

Binge-Eating Disorder

Similar to bulimia, binge eating disorder is characterized by severe bouts of obsessive overeating. Furthermore, those who suffer from binge eating disorder are not compelled to purge what they consume. In addition, they are not concerned with burning the calories through exercise. Therefore, individuals with this eating disorder are often overweight or morbidly obese.

Morbid obesity has long-term health effects. People who are obese suffer from cardiovascular issues like blood clots, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. As a result, heart attack is also a concern. Hence, the heart is placed under a great deal of stress.

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Classified

Not every teen who suffers from an eating disorder will fall neatly into one of the three main diagnoses. Because of this, the most common diagnosis is one of EDNOS—eating disorder not otherwise classified. Consequently, these individuals may lean more heavily in one direction or the other, not meeting all the criteria.

It is important to remember that an EDNOS diagnosis is just as critical as any other, and must be treated accordingly.

Causes of Eating Disorders

Unlike some other physical health conditions, the causes of an eating disorder can vary. Furthermore, it depends on the individual. Many teens who fall victim to eating disorders have additional mental health disorders. Hence, they may have depression, anxiety or PTSD, low self-image, or substance abuse.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

The treatment for an eating disorder should focus on three distinct phases:

  • Acute care: Restores a healthy weight
  • Psychological care: Treats the emotional and/or mental conditions that led to the eating disorder
  • Preventative care: Develops healthy thought patterns and trains the individual to make healthy decisions.

These phases may overlap. A teen who suffers from binge eating disorder may undergo psychological care. In addition, during treatment they can set healthy weight goals. Furthermore, each segment of the treatment must be addressed for the treatment to be successful.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic model based on a partnership. It is designed to help the individual learn better ways to think (cognitive) to make better choices (behavior). The process takes approximately 16 weeks. In addition, it involves hands-on approaches to therapy. This includes homework assignments and role-playing. In some cases, the treatment model may be extended beyond the initial period.

CBT can be administered in private or group settings. Therefore, often, the treatment plan will involve both private and group sessions.

  • Medication
    Teens who suffer from an eating disorder may have underlying medical conditions. Medications are sometimes prescribed for these conditions. 

Myths About Eating Disorders

There are several myths about eating disorders. Therefore, it is important to understand several facts about eating disorders to prevent negative effects.

  • Myth #1: Eating disorders are an attempt to get attention.
    The Truth: An eating disorder is a serious mental and physical illness. Hence, teens with eating disorders will often go to great lengths to conceal.
  • Myth #2: Teens who suffer from eating disorders are only interested in how they look.
    The Truth: Eating disorders have nothing to do with vanity. While a teen may feel that looking perfect will solve their problems, the actual disorder is deeper. Teens have a distorted sense of their bodies. Therefore, the behavior continues regardless of the effects of dieting, exercise, binging, or purging on their appearance.
  • Myth #3: If you are not emaciated, you’re not sick.
    The Truth: This is a dangerous myth. Only a small percentage of those who suffer from anorexia become dangerously thin. Furthermore, the damage to the body is significant prior to the emaciated stage. As a result, many who suffer from a dangerous eating disorder, like bulimia, will maintain a healthy appearance.

What Parents Can Do to Help Their Children

Consequently, as a parent of a teen with an eating disorder you have to try to not judge. In addition, do not try to find the root cause of the disorder. Furthermore, do not blame yourself or anyone else for the situation at hand.

In conclusion, rather than focus on the negative, find your teen qualified treatment. Get help for the condition as early as possible. As a result, early intervention can play an enormous role in a child’s recovery and help them to lead full, happy, healthy lives.