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Eating disorders are much more common among adolescents than most people think. In fact, they are more common overall than type II diabetes – and they’re beginning to start earlier and earlier. There are cases of anorexia nervosa in children as young as age 7. This is important because early intervention and education are the keys to treating and preventing these disorders.

Early intervention and treatment can help prevent a variety of complications that can hold back development, leading to health and psychological risks that might require further treatment. In very severe cases, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can even be fatal. To avoid a similar outcome, teenagers in treatment for eating disorders should receive education on a variety of subjects, from the continuation of academic studies to specialized curricula regarding nutrition, mindful movement, and the psychological root causes of the disorder. Below is some information about the use of education in the treatment of eating disorders and why it is an integral part of the treatment process. 

The Different Aspects During Recovery

Adolescent eating disorder treatment programs can differ from each other quite dramatically, in form and content. More and more, there is a shift towards evidence-based treatment methods, allowing the best eating disorder recovery programs to include multiple, scientifically grounded programs. Each program is customized to meet the unique needs of the individual undergoing treatment, within a general framework. Some of the key components of a successful eating disorder treatment program may include: 

1. Psychiatric and psychological treatment methods

There is no single cause of any eating disorder – they normally result from a combination of biological, cultural, and emotional factors. However, psychological or psychiatric factors are almost always present in ED cases. For example, body dysmorphia (a distorted sense of one’s body and weight) may induce lowered self-esteem, anxiety, or depression. Treatment methodologies centering around psychological and psychiatric treatment can assist adolescent clients to build a healthier sense of self and move beyond their disordered thoughts. The launching point of these treatments is recognizing the psychological factors that led to the development of their eating disorders. In many cases, psychological issues like social anxiety, common in people with eating disorders, will be addressed with an eye towards the client’s reentry into a “normal: life at school.

2. Medical services

The first task of any eating disorder treatment facility is fulfilling the client’s medical needs. Very often, restrictive eating disorders come part and parcel with malnutrition, low blood pressure, heart disease, and other dangerous medical issues. For example, a teenage girl with a severe case of anorexia nervosa may be malnourished and experiencing acute anemia. The goal of medical treatment during eating disorder recovery is to identify these medical issues before moving on to the necessary psychiatric or psychological care. 

3. Family education and support 

Following the successful completion of an eating disorder treatment program, clients might immediately join an aftercare program. These services are designed to provide support to clients, through communication between family, professionals and the client to support the client and reduce their chances of relapse. In many cases, the family members will also receive training on how to provide a support system while their loved one is in treatment.

4. Education

The various types of educational services included at eating disorder treatment facilities serve several purposes. Some of these services center directly around the recovery process and self-care, some are for the family and other caretakers, and, while not every program includes them, there should always be academic programs to ensure teenagers in treatment don’t fall behind in school. 

What Types of Education to Expect

Education is an essential part of teenage eating disorder treatment for many different reasons. Some of the main forms of education for adolescents in eating disorder treatment and their families may include: 

Academics and Continuing Education

Eating disorder treatment is rife with challenges to overcome, from the dangerous health risk resulting from disordered eating to identifying and removing disordered thought patterns. Unfortunately, residential treatment takes adolescents out of school, often at critical times in their academic careers. Missing school can lead to a huge backlog in their schoolwork when recovery is complete, as they must then try to balance missed classes in addition to maintaining their recovery. Some eating disorder treatment centers offer academic courses in-house to help the client keep up academically.

At Clementine, we take great pride in providing academic solutions for our clients in residential treatment. Each of our clients receives a personalized education plan while in treatment, that starts on day one of treatment and continues throughout their stay. There are daily, two and a half hour sessions in which the client’s academic curriculum is continued. We also employ state-certified educators on-site, who work closely with the client’s parents and school to minimize academic disruption. There is also an option for retaining specialized tutors in certain cases. 

Education for Friends and Family

A support system of caring and compassionate loved ones is essential for maintaining a recovered lifestyle. For this reason, training and education on how to support a recent eating disorder program graduate are vital for families and friends. These programs might include classes about:

  • Understanding the underlying causes of eating disorders. Eating disorders are usually caused by a combination of biological, psychological, genetic and social factors. Coordinating with the facility’s therapists, families can better understand why their loved one began to show disordered eating behaviors and how to alleviate those root causes moving forward.


  • Recognizing triggers for relapse and preventing them no program can entirely prevent a relapse, which is when an individual falls back into the disordered behavior that required treatment. Even successfully recovered people can make a mistake or show a temporary lapse in judgment. The family can learn what kind of situations and actions that might trigger a relapse, as well as knowing how to act decisively and compassionately if a relapse does happen, to minimize the damage it can incur. 

To help identify relapses as soon as they occur, many eating disorder counseling programs educate friends, parents and other family members about the signs they may notice if the teenager is struggling to maintain her recovery. These programs may also educate friends and family members about the steps they should take if they notice these signs. 

  • Understanding what their loved one is going through and providing support. Eating disorder treatment is a serious thing, and many people aren’t sure how they should act around someone who has just completed a residential program. Clementine’s programs include education for friends and family members about time-tested support techniques that can help them welcome their loved ones back into the fold. This includes training on how to be emotionally supportive, to ease their re-entry into school and social activities, and what to do if there is a relapse. 

Understanding Eating Disorders Through Knowledge

The crux of any eating disorder treatment program is, of course, addressing the eating disorder itself. To make inroads in a successful recovery, clients need to learn more about themselves, their disorder, and how the disorder came to be. Some of the benefits of eating disorder-specific education include:

  • A greater understanding of the underlying causes of the disorder. Through psychotherapy, dialogues with experts, and self-assessment, the causative factors of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other disorders can be identified. Understanding these factors is the first step to counteracting the compulsive, disordered behaviors. 
  • Understanding the consequences of continuing disordered behaviors. The health risks of unabated eating disorders can be severe, even leading to death – but it can be hard for a still-developing person to see. Normally, the individual in treatment hasn’t considered the long-term effects. Although understanding these effects won’t magically put a stop to the eating disorder unless a more comprehensive program is used, it helps the adolescent client fully grasp why they need to change their behavior.
  • Increasing positive coping skills. The more a client can learn about how to cope with triggering emotions or situations, the better suited they’ll be to avoid relapses after they come home. A proper educational program at a treatment center will put a priority on these kinds of life skills. Examples of life skills development include teaching teenagers how to take responsibility for their chores and schoolwork, time management, prioritizing self-care and serenity, an academic focus, and learning how to deal with stress and peer pressure.
  • Preparing to re-enter life as a recovered individual. After an intense, life-changing experience like a residential stay at an eating disorder treatment facility, it can be hard for people to go back to the way things were. In some ways, it is even more difficult for adolescents, who are navigating the challenge of finding their place in the world as their bodies and minds change. Without preparing them for the challenge of returning to school, the likelihood of relapse is increased. For this reason, Clementine offers educational services that prepare adolescents for a return to “normal” life. 
  • Nutritional education. This is the key to every eating disorder treatment program.  The main goal of any recovery has to be establishing a balanced, nutritional diet that helps the individual maintain an appropriate body weight. Nutritional education and classes teaching cooking and shopping skills are normally included in the program, along with dietitian-approved meal planning. The best programs will not only help teenagers understand their nutritional needs, but they will also help them develop a personalized meal plan when inpatient or outpatient treatment is over. 

Combining Treatment and Education to Facilitate Recovery

At Clementine, we understand the complex relationship medical, psychological, and educational programs in facilitating adolescent eating disorder recovery. The ages of 13 – 21 are the prime years when eating disorders normally develop, and that makes a healing and preventative education curriculum even more important in adolescent programs than it would be in an adult-focused one. Adolescents struggling with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other related disorders deserve specialized treatment services. 

Clementine provides a comprehensive continuum of care specialized in adolescent eating disorders that have been treating teenage clients for over a decade. In addition to providing psychological and medical treatment to our clients, we also offer a range of educational services designed to improve the effectiveness of treatment. Please contact us today to learn more about our services. 


Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.