COVID-19 has changed everyone’s life. Academics are no exception – although schools have been reopened for a while, the traditional path to education is still tottering. Eating disorders, which often begin during adolescence, are an ever-present risk for teenager and their parents. They can at times require residential treatment, which means taking a student out of school for a time while they work their way to recovery.

bulimia nervosa is a terrifying prospect for everyone involved – a life-threatening disorder that can endanger a person’s well-being, requires intensive treatment, and sets students back academically while they enter a residential program.  This mental health disorder affects about 1.5 percent of women in America at some point in their lives. It seems like a small figure, but it will have an impact on millions of people’s lives. (Please note that not only girls and women get bulimia nervosa – it can happen to boys and men, too.)

It also tends to first appear and worsen during adolescence, which puts the pillars of that age, academics, socialization, and personality development at greater risk. Especially when it comes to schoolwork, an eating disorder that takes 30 days or more can set them back if there isn’t a program in place to continue education at the bulimia nervosa treatment facility.

That’s why any residential bulimia nervosa treatment program worth its salt will have an academic component – to keep the client apace at school while saving their life with the eating disorder program.

What Are the Signs Bulimia Nervosa Treatment Is Needed?

The first symptoms of bulimia nervosa (and other eating disorders) normally first appear in mid-to-late adolescence – that is, from age 13 to 18. It’s a severe and deadly behavioral health disorder, following only anorexia nervosa in terms of the death rate. The behaviors that define bulimia nervosa are well-defined by the DSM-V; a person with BN will binge eat regularly and then purge that food to remove the calories taken in during the binge eating episodes. Before the binge-and-purge eating disorder behavior begins, there are several warning signs of bulimia nervosa to be aware of in children:

  • Preoccupation with weight and body size
  • Engaging in dieting early and frequently
  • Distorted or negative body image (often perceiving themselves as overweight)
  • Eating only certain types of food (no carbs, etc.)
  • Developing food rituals (moving food around on the plate, etc.)

While none of these behavioral symptoms is a guarantee that bulimia nervosa is present, when added to one another they present a warning sign of a potential problem. It’s important that these symptoms are addressed sooner rather than later by a professional.

These initial warning signs can lead to a full-blown case of the disorder if they are left untreated. Bulimia nervosa signs and symptoms include:

  • Repeated and compulsive binge eating episodes
    • Consuming a large amount of food in a short period
    • Experiencing feelings of guilt and shame afterward
    • Secretive behavior and frequent dieting
  • Purging behavior following the binge eating episodes
    • The most common is self-induced vomiting; be aware of frequent trips to the bathroom (especially after meals) and the sounds and smells of vomit
    • Using purging drugs like laxatives – check for pillboxes in the trash
    • Excessive exercise – burning calories after a meal, even past the point of pain or discomfort
  • Distorted body image and low self-esteem
    • People with bulimia nervosa tend to think they are fat or overweight, even if the opposite is true
    • Sense of shame or dislike of their body

What Does Eating Disorder Treatment Entail?

While adolescent programs often have specialists in child psychology on hand, in general, treatment programs for eating disorders are similar in nature. They rely on clinical, nutrition, and psychiatric treatment methods that are tried and true with decades of proven effectiveness behind them. This is what’s meant by the term “evidence-based”; the methodology has shown through evidence to work more often than not.

Teenagers are growing fast, and their bodies need proper nutrition to stay healthy. An adolescent bulimia nervosa treatment program must have nutritionists and dieticians on hand to help their clients maintain a balanced nutrition plan while they work on restoring their relationships with food and eating. Meals are planned based on the doctor’s recommendations for weight restoration, nutritional balance, and other essential segments of a HAES-oriented eating plan.

Psychiatric care is also essential. Bulimia nervosa is a serious psychiatric disorder, and specialists are necessary to develop treatment modalities that work with adolescents. Although there are no psychiatric medications for eating disorders, they may be prescribed for co-occurring disorders such as clinical depression, anxiety disorders like PTSD, and others such as OCD or borderline personality disorder. Treating co-occurring disorders must be part of the recovery program; leaving them untreated can lead to relapses or recurrence of the eating disorder.

Psychological treatments include both individual and group therapy sessions that focus on the client’s emotional state and life experiences. Many recovered clients report that these sessions are their favorite part of treatment, and they are conducive to peer ponding and breakthroughs. More focused therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy are also used to rehabilitate behavior and process PTSD, respectively. All combined these aspects of treatment allow adolescents the best chance to recover from bulimia nervosa and regain their recovered selves.

If My Child Goes Into Residential Bulimia Nervosa Treatment, Won’t They Fall Behind?

With all the activities mentioned above, it might seem like there is no time for anything else. However, schooling is a key part of an adolescent’s life, and a quality residential treatment program must take that into account. Especially in an era when academics are harder than ever to maintain, taking 30 to 90 days off from school can cause all kinds of setbacks, even with distance learning. Especially in the high school years, it is essential for parents seeking bulimia treatment to find an eating disorder treatment center that focuses on bulimia nervosa but also makes academic integration a part of the program.

The best eating disorder treatment programs for adolescents will provide several avenues to continue their clients’ educations, especially in the middle school to high school years. To avoid interruption of their existing curriculum, they should coordinate the student’s homework and reading assignments with her regular school and teachers. The residential program should also include regular daily study and lesson time. Finally, if possible, they should have certified teachers and tutors on-site to make sure the education isn’t self-guided, but instead remains the highest quality.

If you’re considering adolescent eating disorder treatment, make sure you consult with the facility about their academic programming. Will they provide tutors? Will they set aside time for education during the treatment program? Will they coordinate with your child’s teachers and school administrators? With these provisions in place, a teenager in eating disorder recovery doesn’t have to fall behind. Reach out today to get started.

Carrie Hunnicutt

With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.