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While attending an eating disorder treatment center, teens and adolescents can benefit from the utilization of a structured level system. This type of eating disorder treatment program helps individuals progressively work through the levels to break free from disordered thoughts and behaviors. With the structured level system, caregivers keep the focus on setting goals, gaining privileges, developing personal responsibility and recognizing accomplishments. This approach helps teens and adolescents learn healthy coping strategies that can last a lifetime with help from their outpatient caregivers and family support system. Parents can explore the purpose and benefits of treatment programs with structured level systems to see if this option would work best for their teens and adolescents in need of care.

Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Teens and Adolescents

The prevalence of eating disorders in adolescence and the teenage years is on the rise with girls affected more than boys. Increasing levels of stress, peer pressure, and media influence all contribute to the reliance on disordered eating behaviors to regain a sense of control or change their perception of self. These behaviors can lead to the development of anorexia nervosa and bulimia, necessitating care from skilled mental health professionals.

Over time, the disordered eating habits can start to result in substantial weight loss, growth restrictions and nutritional deficiencies. As a result, the mental and physical health of teens and adolescents tends to start to decline. With early care using structured level systems, it is possible for these individuals to make a full recovery from eating disorders in teens and adolescents.

Common Barriers to Recovery from Eating Disorders

Eating disorders in adolescence and the teenage years present with unique barriers to recovery. The factors that can complicate recovery include peer pressure, lack of healthy coping skills and limited involvement in care. Without direct involvement in eating disorder treatment, for example, teens and adolescents cannot learn the coping skills needed for recovery.

Improper eating disorder treatment practices can also act as a barrier to recovery from eating disorders in teens and adolescents. To be truly effective, the care process needs to focus on a multidimensional approach that allows for physical and mental recovery from eating disorders. All comorbid conditions and other underlying factors must be resolved as well to facilitate a lifetime of being recovered from eating disorders. The structured level system can help individuals overcome these barriers and recover from eating disorders, even at a young age.

How a Structured Level System Works

With clear levels to work through, teens and adolescence can purposefully challenge their eating disorders and move toward recovery. The structured level system introduces challenges and privileges at each stage that help drive the eating disorder treatment process.

At each level, teens and adolescents can utilize solo and group activities to develop healthier thought patterns and behaviors relating to food intake and body image. Individuals receive personalized support from their outpatient caregivers and family to adhere to the eating disorder treatment guidelines and reach their goals.

On a weekly basis, adolescents and teens complete their contracts that track their objectives and accomplishments through the treatment process. Beyond establishing great nutrition and eating habits, the objectives might revolve around addressing problems with mood and cognition, family relationships and education. As teens and adolescents identify their own goals for eating disorder recovery, they can approach treatment with purpose and drive that helps support their journey toward wellness.

All individuals start at the entry level to acclimate to the program and treatment process before working their way through each level. This initial level basically introduces the treatment program and its expectations. The first through third levels slowly increase the challenges and privileges to help individuals develop a healthy relationship with food and a positive body image.

Upon reaching the fourth, and final, level, teens and adolescents should have a strong understanding of eating disorders, including their risk factors and causes. Individuals at this level are prepared to transfer to a lower level of care for continued recovery from eating disorders in teens and adolescents.

Levels Used at Eating Disorder Treatment Centers

Eating disorder treatment centers that utilize structured level systems often have five distinct treatment levels. Each of these levels offers the challenges and support that promotes recovery from eating disorders in adolescence and the teenage years.


At the entry level, teens and adolescents learn about their eating disorder treatment centers and program specifics. Their treatment coordinators set up meetings that help these individuals become familiar with their care team. The development of a close working relationship helps to promote great treatment outcomes for individuals of all ages. The care team will perform a number of assessments to create a baseline that supports the development of a personalized treatment plan. The assessments look at the specific individual and family needs of the teens and adolescents enrolled in the treatment program.


The first level of eating disorder treatment focuses on stabilization and engagement with the program. Individuals will receive support in engaging with eating disorder treatment to the fullest. Caregivers will help teens and adolescents meet their daily nutritional need with carefully portioned meals and snacks. Individuals must completely eat their meals and snacks to avoid the need for a supplement. Individuals who cannot abide by this rule will receive additional nutritional support until they can. Exercise is off-limits at this level to give the body a chance to start the recovery process and normalize in weight and nutrient levels.


Upon reaching the second level, teens and adolescents receive support with maintaining their motivation for reaching recovery. At this level, portioning challenges are introduced by dieticians to encourage flexible eating habits. The increase in flexibility should show through snack choices and ability to abide by the indicated portioning guidelines. Individuals at the second level of eating disorder treatment may earn activity passes that reflect their dedication to working toward recovery. Treatment professionals closely monitor treatment engagement and compliance to assess individual progress and determine how privileges are granted.

Once individuals have developed mutual trust with their care team, they may move onto the third level in the structured level system. This level allows for self-portioning of meals and snacks using the knowledge and skills built in prior levels. The care team will continue to monitor food intake and eating habits to promote healthy choices and life skills. Light exercise, including walks and yoga, is permitted at this level, though permission may be needed for more intense activities. The third level of care focuses on building and practicing the skills that will help teens and adolescents remain recovered after leaving the eating disorder treatment centers.


At the final structured level, individuals have shown a clear understanding of the diagnosed eating disorder along with its symptoms and causes. The therapeutic team will have individuals remain in full control of their meal and snack preparation to demonstrate their skills. Caregivers may hand out passes more often in an effort to help individuals prepare for a less structured level of care. These passes will put teens and adolescents in challenging situations they will likely face after leaving the eating disorder treatment centers.

Upon making it through the fourth level in this system, teens and adolescents can move onto a less structured treatment program for continued support. The knowledge and skills developed with the structured level system will support these individuals’ progress in other treatment programs.

Structured Level System Benefits for Teens and Adolescents

The structured level system introduces challenges and privileges to offer teens and adolescents the guidance and support they need to overcome their eating disorders. The level system promotes the complete involvement of teens and adolescents in their own care, which facilitates the development of healthy life skills.

With the metered introduction of challenges, individuals can work at a pace that meets their level of need. The privileges granted at each level help to promote self-sufficiency in practicing healthy meal prep and eating habits. Without moving too quickly, individuals can develop a good relationship with food, beneficial eating habits, and a positive body image.

By allowing individuals to take charge of their journey toward eating disorder recovery, the care team can develop a close working relationship with teens and adolescents of all ages. This helps to boost mutual trust between caregivers and their patients, which helps promote better outcomes across the board.

Importance of Measuring Progress and Awarding Privileges

Two very important aspects of the structured level system for eating disorder recovery are the measurement of progress and award of privileges. By looking at the baseline and moving toward recovery from there, individuals can effectively measure their progress and celebrate their accomplishments. The ability to look at how far they have come helps improve motivation for those enrolled in treatment programs at eating disorder treatment centers. Furthermore, measuring progress shows teens and adolescents that what they once thought impossible is achievable with the right level of support.

Awarding privileges as individuals make it through each level helps maintain adequate motivation levels through rewards for accomplishments. In addition, it helps to reinforce the commitment teens and adolescents have to making a full recovery from eating disorders.

The way responsibilities and with the structured level system also helps to prepare teens and adolescents for their return home. The increase in activity can help promote a seamless transition back home after completing the fourth level of treatment. The activities can help individual face and overcome triggers that would have otherwise started the disordered eating behaviors all over again.

By facing these triggers while in the structured level system, teens and adolescents can receive the support they need to resist the urge to return to prior behaviors. They also receive the help they need to challenge unhealthy thought patterns that typically contribute to the development of eating disorders.

Working Toward Eating Disorder Recovery at Clementine

Teens and adolescents with diagnosed eating disorders or disordered eating habits can benefit from enrollment in a treatment program that utilizes a structured level system. The system will promote the development of healthy thought patterns, behaviors and life skills for complete recovery from eating disorders. With a focus on collaboration with the care team and family members through the structured level treatment program, teens and adolescents will receive the support they need to overcome their eating disorders.

Adolescents and teens, along with their family members, can receive compassionate care from the team at clementine by calling 855-900-2221. With our focus on education, skill-building, and empathy, our patients can achieve their goals and replace disordered eating thought patterns and behaviors with healthier alternatives for life.