• iCare Community Magazine

Teen, Adolescent, and Children’s Eating Disorders


Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and compulsive overeating are concerns every parent hopes to avoid. But, when these eating disorders develop, there are some tremendously helpful eating disorder resources for parents, siblings, and other concerned family and friends.


Eating disorder treatment is available for children and adolescents on an outpatient, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, and inpatient level. Perhaps, most helpful of all, some studies have shown that early intervention in the development of an eating disorder has the best likelihood of long term recovery.


Signs of Childhood and Adolescent Eating Disorders

Girls are far more likely to have eating disorders. However, boys are also susceptible. The following signs may help identify a child with an eating disorder:


• eating in secret

• preoccupation with food

• calorie counting

• fear of becoming fat

• binge eating

• purging

• food phobias or avoidance


A fear of certain foods may be a telltale sign of an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. For example, high-fat foods may increase anxiety levels in some kids with eating disorders.


By avoiding these foods, they learn they may temporarily keep their anxiety in check. This is known as “negative reinforcement.”


Eating disorders may deprive brain cells of needed energy and, eventually, change the way people process information. This change in brain chemistry is thought to contribute to food phobias and distorted thinking, especially in regard to one’s perceived body image.


Comprehensive Eating Disorders Treatment for Teens A Must

Untreated eating disorders may lead to significant medical complications. Therefore, receiving care from comprehensive eating disorders treatment programs is extremely important. Usually, this includes a medical doctor, a psychologist or therapist, a psychiatrist, a dietitian and a physical therapist. Families play an important role in treatment and recovery.


The first goal is to help children achieve a healthy weight. Often they require medical care to correct changes in metabolism or medical complications.


Eating disorders may damage the brain, heart, bones, kidneys and liver. Consequently, the medical team must regularly monitor children for related complications.


Psychologists or therapists help children with eating disorders cope with negative behaviors, distorted thinking patterns and any underlying issues that may have triggered the condition. For example, with cognitive behavioral therapy, patients learn to recognize situations that trigger eating disorder behaviors and then work to develop positive coping techniques. Dialectical behavior therapy is similar. It focuses on replacing negative coping strategies with more adaptive options.


Family involvement is critical

Families are an integral part of the treatment team. The chances that your loved one will recover from an eating disorder will be increased if the family is involved in supporting and treating the eating disordered individual develop and maintain coping strategies. Children find it encouraging when family members are a part of their recovery efforts.

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