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Research shows that early intervention is a major factor in successful teen residential treatment programs for eating disorders. According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders can be fatal for nearly 20 percent of the men and women diagnosed with them. In fact, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate out of any mental health disorder. With the help of residential treatment services, those shocking numbers drop to somewhere between two and three percent. While some people may do well in an outpatient treatment setting, this level of care is typically reserved for those stepping down from a residential program or an individual who needs more support than an outpatient therapist alone can provide.

Residential programs for teenagers can offer patients and their families a safe and controlled space to begin the recovery process and gain the tools they need to navigate life after treatment. In these settings, teens and young adults are provided the opportunity to thrive in the comfortable and supportive setting provided by residential treatment centers, such as Clementine adolescent treatment programs. Before parents and loved ones begin the search for well-respected residential treatment programs, it is important to learn more about the condition affecting their child.

Understanding Adolescents and Eating Disorders

Teens between the ages of 13 to 17 have a very high risk of developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder. In many cases, children may start to show signs of an eating disorder at an even younger age. Studies show that 51 percent of girls aged 9 to 10 feel better about themselves when they are on a diet.

Why Do Teens Develop Eating Disorders?

While much about eating disorders is still unclear, experts agree there are a variety of different factors that can make some people more likely to develop an eating disorder than others. With teens and young adults, the onset of puberty and hormonal changes can make dealing with everything from school to peer pressure and physical changes extremely confusing and difficult.

It is thought that many eating disorders develop as a coping mechanism for when young people feel a lack of control in other aspects of their lives. Pressure from the media and even their family members can also make teens feel insecure about their body shape and weight, leading to low self-esteem and an effort to change the way they look.

Some of the most common factors that can contribute to the development of eating disorders in teens include:

Peer Pressure

Unfortunately, young people today are often taught to think of the word “fat” in the same way they would think of a four-letter word. It has a very negative connotation and, in an attempt to fit in with their peers, many young people may feel pressure to start cutting calories and dieting in an effort to achieve an “ideal” body shape.

Athletic Achievement

For many teens, sports are an extremely important part of their life; the idea of performing well in competitive sports can sometimes lead to developing an eating disorder. Instances of eating disorders are very common in sports, such as wrestling, gymnastics, ballet, swimming and cheerleading. While they are in a period of vast changes happening physically, emotionally and mentally, they can also develop a disordered relationship with food in an effort to control the way their body looks and performs.


Some young children experience trauma in the form of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. This trauma can occur in a single event or repeatedly over the course of many years. Anything from moving to a new school district to parental divorce or emotional neglect can trigger an eating disorder.


Similar to other emotional trauma, bullying can very quickly trigger an eating disorder. And while bullying in teens has always been an issue, in the social media age, bullying has reached a whole new level. Over time, bullying can lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, body dissatisfaction and more.


Research suggests that certain personality types may be more susceptible to developing an eating disorder than others. Teens may feel pressure to be a perfect student, perfect brother or sister or the perfect child. In particular, high achievers or perfectionists may feel an immense pressure to look a certain way.

Common Eating Disorders: Everything Parents Should Know Before Finding a Residential Treatment Facility

Eating disorders affect people psychologically, physically and socially. And while they typically develop during adolescence, people of all ages, genders, races, sexual orientations and ethnicities can develop an eating disorder. Before families can begin their search for the right residential treatment programs for their teen, they should first be aware of the different types of eating disorders and their symptoms. Some of the most common eating disorders and their symptoms are outlined below.

Anorexia Nervosa

It is likely that anorexia nervosa is the most well-known eating disorder. This eating disorder has been depicted in television and film for decades and while many people think they can identify someone with anorexia nervosa by sight, there are many different symptoms that contribute to the illness. People with this mental health disorder see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. Additionally, they may have an obsession with food and body shape, working to severely restrict their calories.

Some of the common symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Developing restricted eating patterns
  • An intense fear of gaining weight
  • Excessive exercising even when experiencing illness, injury or in cases of bad weather
  • A distorted body image;unable to see when seriously underweight for age, height and stature
  • Fear of eating with others or in public

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa typically develops in adolescence and early adulthood. With bulimia nervosa, people become caught in a recurring cycle of binge eating large amounts of food and using compensatory behaviors like vomiting, laxative abuse, fasting and excessive exercise in an effort to restrict calories. This uncontrollable binge eating is often accompanied by intense feelings of shame, guilt and disgust.

Some common symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Using the restroom directly after meals
  • Stealing or hiding food and eating in secret
  • Low self-esteem, depression and anxiety
  • Development of food rituals that may include eliminating certain foods from their diet (sudden vegetarianism orveganism)
  • Purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, excessive laxative use, excessive exercise using diet pills, etc.

Binge Eating Disorder

Although binge eating disorder has only recently been recognized as a specific condition, it is believed to be the most common eating disorder in the United States. Similar to bulimia nervosa, people with binge eating disorder get caught in a recurring cycle of binge eating large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time, even when they do not feel hungry. However, they do not use any eliminating or purging behaviors to compensate for the number of calories consumed after a binge eating episode. People with binge eating disorder often deal with very severe feelings of embarrassment, shame, disgust and guilt during and after a binge.

Common symptoms of binge eating disorder include:

  • Eating large quantities of food very rapidly, often done in secret and until feeling uncomfortably full (can take place even when not feeling hungry)
  • A feeling of helplessness or lack of self-control during bingeeating episodes
  • Frequent dieting, cutting out entire food groups (sudden vegetarianism or veganism)
  • Low self-esteem, depressionand anxiety
  • Obesity, type 2 diabetes and drastically fluctuating weight
  • Stealing or hoarding food
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment

Residential Treatment Programs vs. Day Treatment Programs

While many residential treatment centers also offer day treatment options for their patients, teens may have different medical and psychiatric needs that make residential treatment services a better fit. Residential treatment centers for teens typically provide a comfortable and home-like setting designed to provide teens with a safe space to regain their physical health and understand their disordered behaviors surrounding food and body image. Day treatment programs are offered for those individuals stepping down from a residential level or care or those individuals who need more support than an outpatient therapist can provide, but more independence than is offered while in residential treatment. It is important for families to do their research before deciding whether teen residential treatment or day treatment is the right choice for their child.

Benefits of Residential Treatment Centers for Teens

Eating disorders are very serious mental health conditions that, if left untreated, can have dangerous and sometimes fatal consequences. Luckily, with the help of residential programs for teenagers, recovery is possible. At a residential treatment facility, teens benefit from living in a controlled environment where they have access to both medical and psychiatric care.

While they should be medically stable, most people who enter residential treatment need advanced guidance and support to overcome their disordered eating behaviors. They will interact with a supportive staff made up of doctors, therapists, nutritionists and support staff; and will learn new coping skills that allow them to rebuild a positive relationship with food and return to a life in recovery.

One of the greatest benefits of teen residential treatment is the fact that young patients are given the time they need to heal away from their social and school commitments. This provides them a better chance at recovery away from the stresses of daily life. While they will still be able to interact with their family and close friends, taking the time away to focus on getting better is key to a successful recovery.

Benefits of Day Treatment or Outpatient Treatment Programs

While residential programs for teenagers are often preferred by the experts, in many cases committing to a residential program isn’t the required level of care. If a teen is found to be both medically and psychiatrically stable and/or she is stepping down from a residential program, ongoing eating disorder counseling and support through a day treatment program may be the right option. Teens can continue with eating disorder therapy through this type of program and maintain or re-integrate into their regular schedule outside of treatment.

Learn More About Clementine Residential Treatment Centers

Finding the right eating disorder treatment program for teens can be a frightening idea if families do not know what they are looking for. However, with a clear understanding of eating disorder behaviors and the benefits of early intervention, it is easy to see a residential treatment program is often the best choice for teens.

At Clementine, teens and their families will have access to an experienced and dedicated support team to help guide them through the recovery process. Offering the highest level of medical and psychiatric care outside of a hospital setting, teens will feel safe and comfortable. Interested in learning more about Clementine and our affiliates? Call 855-900-2221 or contact our friendly and knowledgeable admissions team online today to get more information about our residential and day treatment eating disorder recovery programs for teens.


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.