Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa affect teenagers all over the United States. In fact, they are more common overall than type II diabetes, and the average age of onset is decreasing. Teenage eating disorder treatment can help prevent a variety of complications, which if not treated effectively, will hinder a person’s ability to enjoy their adult life and may necessitate additional length of time at an eating disorder treatment center. In the worst cases, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can even be fatal. For this reason, finding an effective treatment program that includes a varied approach to education is essential for parents of teenagers with eating disorders.
Among the most crucial components of any teenage eating disorder treatment program is education. This includes the continuation of academic studies as well as special education regarding nutrition and the nature of the eating disorder itself. 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.
Outlining Treatments Found in Eating Disorder Recovery
Teenage eating disorder treatment programs can be quite different from one another in their content and structure. As more evidence-based treatment methods become available, quality eating disorder recovery programs include multiple components. Each program is customized to meet the special needs of the individual client. Some of the key components of a successful eating disorder treatment program may include:
1. Psychological and psychiatric treatment
Eating disorders are usually the result of several concurring root causes. However, psychological or psychiatric factors typically come into play. For example, body image dysmorphia (flawed body image or dissatisfaction with one’s body) may lead to feelings of anxiety, depression or low self-esteem. Psychological and, if necessary, psychiatric treatment can help teenagers so they can construct a more realistic and gentle sense of self and cope with disordered, irrational thoughts by recognizing the psychological factors that led to the development of their eating disorders. These aspects of eating disorder recovery treatments can also assist in the positive socialization teenagers need.
2. Medical services
The majority of successful eating disorder treatment programs will have a component fulfilling medical needs. Medical complications related to eating disorders can be extreme and require extensive treatment. For example, a teenage girl with anorexia nervosa may be malnourished and facing anemia. The goal of medical treatment during eating disorder recovery is to identify these medical issues and address each one so the individual can recover both physically and mentally.
3. Family support services
In the days and months after completing an eating disorder treatment program, clients may receive aftercare programming to support them as they return to their lives in recovery. 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.
Educational services included in teenage eating disorder treatment programs serve several purposes. Some of these services are designed to provide the adolescents themselves with the knowledge and skills they can use to recover from their eating disorder, some are designed for the benefit of the client’s extended support system (to help them provide said support), and some concern the client’s academic education so they do not fall behind.
Each of these program components fulfills a different need for clients. When used in the right combination, all of these services will maximize the chances of a successful recovery.
Education for Eating Disorders in Adolescence
Education is an essential part of teenage eating disorder treatment for many different reasons. Some of the main reasons to provide education for adolescents in eating disorder treatment may include:
Academics and Continuing Education
Individuals struggling with eating disorders have many challenges to overcome, from the medical complications they often experience to correcting disordered thought patterns. However necessary treatment may be, inpatient teenage eating disorder treatment also takes young women out of school, often at crucial times. Missing school can lead to additional stress and pressure for teenagers, as they must then try to make up lost time 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, for example, all adolescents study based on a personalized education plan while in treatment. This program begins as soon as the adolescent is admitted and continues throughout treatment. Each day, adolescents in the program work on academic content for two and a half hours. State-certified educators are employed on-site, and parents and schools will receive weekly communications regarding the adolescent’s progress. Clementine coordinates all academic programs with parents and schools to ensure the adolescent can return to school successfully. Referrals to tutors specializing in specific academic areas are also available to adolescents enrolled in eating disorder treatment at Clementine.
Eating Disorder-Specific Educational Programs
As well as academic tutoring to keep up with their schoolwork, many teenage eating disorder treatment centers are educating clients to help them gain a deeper understanding of their conditions, to promote a longer-lasting recovery. Some of the benefits of eating disorder-specific education include:
- Helping people understand the root causes of their disorder. Through psychotherapy, self-analysis and eating disorder counseling, the causative factors of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other disorders can be explored and understood. Understanding these factors makes it easier to address each one and achieve recovery.
- Understanding the effects eating disorders have on the mind and body. Eating disorders may have a serious effect on a teenager’s body and mind, but it can be hard for a still-developing person to see. It is not unusual for the long-term effects of eating disorders to be ignored. Although understanding these effects won’t cure an eating disorder without other forms of therapy, it helps teenagers realize just how important it is to change unhealthy or self-destructive behaviors.
- Helping to build life and coping skills. Individuals who have developed strong coping mechanisms and life skills during eating disorder treatment have a better chance of avoiding relapses once treatment is over. A quality teenage eating disorder treatment center will prioritize building these skills. Examples of life skills development include teaching teenagers how to take responsibility for their chores and schoolwork, how to manage their time, develop healthy priorities, work on homework, deal with stress and peer pressure, be true to their ideals, think mindfully and importantly, make recovery supported decisions.
- Preparing for life in post-recovery. Re-acclimating to the daily grind following discharge from a residential treatment program may be difficult for clients of any age. In some ways, it is even more difficult for teenagers who have intense social pressures and the anxiety that comes with a rush of hormones and a changing body. Without careful preparation for academic and social reintegration, the likelihood of relapse is heightened. For this reason, many teenage eating disorder treatment centers offer educational services designed to prepare adolescents for a return to “normal” life. For example, the program may include sessions in which the teenager learns about the best ways to reintegrate into school, begin a safe movement regimen and continue her recovery outside of the treatment center.
- Nutritional education. Nutritional education and classes teaching cooking and shopping skills are essential to every teenage eating disorder treatment program. Malnutrition is common among adolescents with severe or debilitating eating disorders and learning to eat regularly and with an eye toward proper nutrition can drastically reduce the risk of future medical complications. 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.
Education for Friends and Family
Educational services are also of great benefit to the loved ones of the clients in eating disorder treatment. Some of the goals of education for friends and family members of a teenager during and after receiving help from an eating disorder treatment center include:
- Helping friends and family members understand the root causes of eating disorders. Eating disorders usually form through a mix of biological, psychological, genetic and social factors. Learning about these issues helps friends and family members gain a better understanding of why their loved one developed bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa or some other eating disorder.
- Helping the support network recognize the signs of and prevent relapse. The best treatment available can’t entirely prevent a relapse, also known as a return to disordered behaviors. Even successfully recovered individuals have lapses or make mistakes. Minimizing the chances of relapse is essential, but it is also important to catch any signs of relapse as soon as possible so the teenager can get the help she needs before the disorder progresses.
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.
- Helping friends and family members understand how to best support their loved one during recovery. Many friends and family members aren’t sure how they should respond to and interact with a teenager who is in treatment for an eating disorder or has just completed a treatment program. Many eating disorder treatment programs incorporate education for friends and family members to help them learn how they can best support a teenager in eating disorder recovery. This includes teaching loved ones to be emotionally supportive, help teenagers adjust to life outside of treatment and ensure that teenagers follow all of their aftercare plans to minimize the chances of a relapse.
Treating Eating Disorders with Care and Compassion
At Clementine, we understand the complex relationship between adolescence and the treatment of eating disorders. The teenage years are when most eating disorders develop, and as with most illnesses, it is better to provide treatment earlier rather than later. Teenagers with eating disorders deserve specialized treatment services. We offer a comprehensive continuum of care for eating disorders uniquely prepared for the needs of adolescent girls. 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. We provide academic assistance, eating disorder education for adolescents, eating disorder education for family and much more. Please contact us today to learn more about our services.