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Raising children in the modern age means parents will come up against a number of different obstacles as their kids grow older. Where once families may have dealt with potty training and learning to read, as kids grow into teens the problems can become much more serious. In fact, it is very common for both boys and girls to develop some type of eating disorder as they enter their adolescent years. Anorexia nervosa is the third most common chronic illness among teens and statistics indicate 80 percent of thirteen year old girls have already begun dieting. While anorexia nervosa recovery is possible through early intervention and dedicated treatment, parents may quickly discover that finding the right anorexia nervosa treatment center is just the beginning of the road to recovery.

Navigating the Challenges of Anorexia Nervosa Treatment

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Often referred to as anorexia, this common eating disorder can be life-threatening if left untreated. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a cycle of self-starvation and excessive weight loss. With cases of anorexia in adolescence, teens typically begin to restrict the amount of food they eat over a fear of gaining weight. In severe cases of anorexia nervosa, people can experience a number of different health complications, such as heart disease and stroke. The extreme weight loss associated with the disorder can even result in death. People with this type of eating disorder often have a form of body dysmorphia, where they do not see themselves as thin, even when they are dangerously under the recommended body weight for their age and height.

Who Is at Risk for Developing Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa disorder can affect people of all ages, genders, races and ethnicities. Historians have found documented cases of anorexia nervosa that go back thousands of years in human history. Anorexia nervosa is much more common in women than in men, with only about ten percent of those diagnosed with the disorder identifying as male. While much about the development of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa is still unknown, research suggests people with this type of mental disorder are often high achievers, performing well in school or at work. In some cases, teens who develop anorexia nervosa may be seen as perfectionists who have obsessive, depressive and/or anxious symptoms.

Why Do Teens Develop Eating Disorders Like Anorexia Nervosa?

As previously mentioned, there is still much that is unknown about how eating disorders develop. Most experts agree there are a number of different factors that may cause someone to be more susceptible to developing anorexia nervosa. Research shows a combination of thinking patterns, personality traits and emotions can impact those who develop the condition. Additionally, it is thought that both environmental and biological factors could play a part.

Anorexia in adolescence often develops as a coping mechanism that allows teens to gain a sense of control when other areas of their lives may become stressful or overwhelming. It is also common for feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, loneliness and inadequacy to contribute to the development of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa. People with anorexia may find themselves dealing with troubled personal relationships, bullying and pressures from peers or loved ones to maintain a certain standard of beauty.

Hormonal changes that lead to physical changes in the body may also contribute to the development of eating disorders. Because hormones contribute to everything from how the mind and body control moods, thinking, memory and appetite, it makes sense that the onset of puberty can exacerbate disordered behaviors surrounding food and body weight. Additionally, some studies have found that a hereditary link may make some people more likely to experience anorexia nervosa than others.

Anorexia Nervosa Statistics

The National Eating Disorders Association has gathered a great deal of data over the years from studies conducted in the US, UK and across Europe, in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of anorexia nervosa. Below, parents can read some of the most important pieces of information from these studies thus far:

  • After asthma and type 1 diabetes, anorexia nervosa is the most common chronic disease affecting young people today
  • Adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 who have anorexia nervosa have an increased risk of death ten times higher than peers of the same age
  • Symptoms of common eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa are beginning earlier in both boys and girls
  • Fifty percent of girls aged 13 to 15 believe they are overweight
  • Only about one in ten people with an eating disorder receive treatment
  • Approximately 20 percent of people with anorexia nervosa who do not seek treatment will die from related health complications
  • Boys and men represent approximately 25 percent of people who have anorexia nervosa and have an increased risk of dying from the condition. This is based on a diagnosis much later in life, as many people assume men do not have eating disorders

What Are the Common Symptoms Associated with Anorexia Nervosa?

Before parents approach their teens about anorexia nervosa treatment, they should look for some of the common signs that their child may have developed the disorder. Some of the most common symptoms of anorexia nervosa disorder include:

Physical Symptoms

  • Dizziness, fainting and muscle weakness
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as stomach cramping, acid reflux and constipation
  • Irregular periods or the loss of periods altogether
  • Thinning hair, dry skin and brittle nails
  • Dental problems including cavities, tooth sensitivity and enamel erosion

Behavioral and Emotional Symptoms

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Becoming preoccupied with food, weight, counting calories, dieting and cutting out certain food groups
  • Avoiding mealtimes or situations involving food, such as family gatherings, school functions, etc.
  • Cooking meals for others without eating
  • Becoming isolated from friends and family or dropping activities they once enjoyed
  • Maintaining a rigid exercise routine that could be seen as excessive, in an attempt to burn off more calories
  • Developing rituals around food and mealtimes; people with anorexia nervosa mayre-arrange food on their plate, excessively chew each bite of food or only eat foods in certain orders
  • Dressing in layers in an attempt to stay warm or hide dramatic changes in weight and body shape

Research also shows many of the teens who develop anorexia nervosa disorder have a strong need for control and may be overly emotional. Speaking to children about depression and anxiety may be one way to open the lines of communication in the hopes of urging them to speak up about eating disordered behaviors.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Teens with Anorexia Nervosa?

It is recommended parents look for anorexia nervosa treatment programs that address the physical and psychological aspects of the condition. Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa should be treated by a team of professionals that include a primary care physician and mental health professionals. Often anorexia treatment centers will feature recovery programs that provide patients access to continuous medical care, ongoing therapy sessions, nutritional counseling and in some cases, the use of prescription medications. While the use of certain antidepressants has proved useful in treating the anxiety and depression that at times accompanies anorexia nervosa, there has yet to be an FDA-approved medication that treats the condition directly.

Levels of Care

Many anorexia nervosa treatment centers provide more than one level of treatment to more fully support patients on the path to recovery. The least intensive level of care available is an outpatient or day treatment program. This type of treatment is designed to help patients who are medically and psychiatrically stable, but can benefit from ongoing counseling. This level of care is also frequently recommended to individuals stepping down from residential treatment as they integrate back into their daily lives.

Additionally, most anorexia treatment centers offer a more intensive residential treatment program. This type of treatment program is ideal for teens who may be experiencing both medical and psychological issues related to their eating disorder. Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa may require medical monitoring before or while a patient is working on the psychological aspects of the condition. With residential care, teens are able to get the treatment needed for any medical issues associated with the disorder and find comfort in a safe space where they can explore their thoughts and feelings.

Common Anorexia Nervosa Treatment Methods

Once a level of care has been decided upon,families can expect to learn a great deal about the different anorexia nervosa recovery therapies available. Some of the most common therapy options include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT: This treatment focuses on the individual’s thoughts and behaviors. Patients are taught to recognize their thoughts and actions, and eventually replace them with more positive coping methods.
  • Family-Based Therapy: This type of therapy relies heavily on a strong support system; family members are expected to work together to encourage positive behaviors within the family system. Once the patient’s health has been established, the family unit will work on addressing any interrupting compensatory behaviors or other remaining issues.
  • Medication: Anorexia in adolescence is often accompanied by other mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. Antidepressants such as Prozac may be prescribed to help relieve feelings of depression and reduce the risk of relapse after completing treatment. While these medications are most often prescribed to adults with eating disorders, evidence suggests they can also be helpful in treating teens.

Challenges Teens Face During and After Treatment

One of the first challenges teens or parents will face in anorexia nervosa recovery is finding a treatment program tailored for teens and young adults. Teens are dealing with many life obstacles for the very first time and may require increased psychiatric or therapeutic support. Anorexia nervosa treatment centers that offer both medical and psychiatric care are typically the best option for teens and young adults.

Early intervention is another important factor on the road to recovery. Parents and family members should not hesitate to speak with their kids about eating disorders if they suspect something is wrong. The next step would be to find anorexia treatment centers near you and follow through with the recommendations from a clinical and medical team. A strong support system is vital throughout the process to support recovery and prevent relapse.

When treatment is complete, the transition back into a “normal” routine can be difficult. While most anorexia treatment centers will offer families plenty of help and guidance along the way, it is always a good idea for patients to ease back into school and social activities. If stressors or daily activities become overwhelming, teens may be triggered to begin using negative coping behaviors that could potentially lead to relapse. Continuing with counseling post-treatment is a great way to help keep teens on the right path and let them know they have continued support.

Adolescent Eating Disorder Treatment at Clementine

When families search online for “anorexia treatment centers near me” they should be looking for a program designed to meet the unique needs of young patients. At Clementine, teens will find a safe, welcoming and comfortable home-like setting where they can begin the road to recovery. Parents will enjoy peace of mind knowing their teens have access to the highest quality medical and psychiatric care outside of a hospital setting. With comprehensive academic and family support options available, we ensure patients have the tools they need to navigate the challenges that can be associated with the recovery process.

Want to learn more about anorexia treatment centers near you? Call 855.900.2221 or contact our admissions department online today for more information.


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.