3 Ways for Adolescents with Eating Disorders to Balance Treatment and School

Research has shown that common eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa typically onset during the early teen years. Eating disorders bring with them serious medical and mental health consequences and are well known for being very difficult to treat. Most often, specialized eating disorder treatment is required before adolescents are recovered.

It is important that middle schools and high schools work to provide resources that will support students and aid in the prevention of eating disorders. As they are charged with the care of teens who may already be enrolled in a treatment program, schools should be aware of the special needs that adolescents with eating disorders have. In fact, schools can become a very important and reliable partner in treatment. However, there are certain practices that teens and their families can take on as well to help balance obsessive eating disorder treatment and the everyday challenges that they’ll come up against in school.

Common Eating Disorders and Their Prevalence in Adolescents

Most often anorexia nervosa is characterized in teens by a failure to maintain a healthy body weight, a distorted body image and a very intense fear of putting on weight. While similar to anorexia nervosa, individuals with bulimia nervosa often experience recurrent and frequent episodes in which they eat very large amounts of food – also known as binge-eating disorder – as well as a general lack of control over their eating habits. Binge-eating episodes also followed by behaviors that “cancel out” the binge, such as fasting, excessive exercise and purging or eliminating food via vomiting and/or the excessive use of laxatives.

It is important to note that unlike those adolescents diagnosed with anorexia nervosa who usually show outward signs of their illness, people who have bulimia nervosa can maintain a weight that is well with the normal range for their height and weight. This can result in a large number of bulimia nervosa cases going under-diagnosed or under-reported during the teen years.

The prevalence of eating disorders has been steadily increasing worldwide, with anorexia nervosa being identified as the 3rd most common chronic illness among teens. Research shows that nearly 4% of teen girls in the US have an eating disorder and 1.5% of boys do as well. In a recent study observing students in the 5th to 12th grades, 7% of the boys and 13% of the girls said that they had recently engaged in binge-eating and purging behaviors.

An even larger number of adolescents in the same grades report some less severe symptoms of disordered eating and weight concerns. A number of American studies have shown that around 50% of young girls aged 11-13 think of themselves as overweight and 80% of girls aged 13 have already attempted to start losing weight.

Eating Disorder Risk Factors That Parents and Teens Should Be Aware Of

Modern research has determined that anywhere from 50-80 percent of an individual’s risk of developing an eating disorder is directly linked to genetic factors. While previous theories focused on sociocultural causes and family dynamics, this new information confirms that anorexia nervosa was a common health issue long before the current cultural focus on thinness was so prevalent. In addition to genetic factors, common personality traits of perfectionism and anxiety are also associated with many of the behaviors that are believed to contribute to eating disorder development.

However, parents and teens should note that regardless of contributing factors, the majority of eating disorder cases are triggered by dieting or calorie restriction. This suggests that even if an adolescent is genetically predisposed to an eating disorder but never begins the dieting process, their chances of developing an eating disorder are very slim.

Early intervention is very crucial for young teens. And individuals who have recovered from common eating disorders typically benefit from both medical and mental health treatment. While there are many different types of treatment for eating disorders, the sooner a teen begins the process, the better. Without early intervention, eating disorders can very easily become chronic and even fatal.

Eating Disorder Counseling and Treatment

Many people with eating disorders experience malnutrition that can quickly affect their mood, thinking, and behaviors. But research shows that speaking with an eating disorder psychologist and finding the best eating disorder treatment program can help to normalize eating habits and prevent weight restriction.

For adolescents with eating disorders, there are a number of different treatment options including eating disorder inpatient treatment, family-based therapy, adolescent eating disorder therapy and more. The majority of these options focus on working together as a family to beat the eating disorder. Parents and loved ones are often charged with re-nourishing their children during family meals and working with their school’s student health services to help ease the transition back into a regular routine.

While prevention is something that school cafeterias and health staff should be focused on, even with access to nutritious foods at school if children don’t have a plan in place, the transition back to the classroom can be difficult. It is no secret that eating disorders can thrive in competitive and high-pressure environments like school, so finding a balance that will help adolescents feel empowered and in control after recovery is paramount.

For adolescents who have completed inpatient or residential treatment, it’s not uncommon to establish a new support team as they return to school, which can take some time to set-up. Parents can contact the school to ask about the health services available and work with hometown eating disorder clinics to find professionals who work near the school. They should also inquire about continued meetings with the home-based team and work to establish a routine that works around their child’s school schedule.

3 Ways That Students with Eating Disorders Can Balance Treatment and School Life

While every student is different, there are a few key practices or habits that can help to make the transition back into a typical school environment during or post-treatment a positive experience. Everyone knows that the teen years are already a significant time of upheaval and with new pressures added to an already overwhelming workload, adolescents with eating disorders need all of the support possible as they enter the classroom once again.

1. Have a Strong Support System in Place

One of the best things that teens can have while in treatment is a positive support system. For many teens, this often includes working with a doctor, nutritionist, psychiatrist, therapist, family, and friends. Professional help is something that adolescents should always have access to. Working with eating disorder specialists is always best, so make sure that teens and their loved ones have found a team that they feel comfortable with.

When it comes to friends, it is not uncommon to interact with people who are supportive but who may not fully understand what those with eating disorders are going through. If possible, patients may choose to involve some of their closest friends in a group therapy session. This way they can feel more educated on what recovered individuals are working through and help to feel more confident in their supportive role. Often friends can join in on group or family therapy sessions as teens transition back into their regular school routine, so teens shouldn’t be afraid to bring up the subject if their therapist hasn’t already.

The family is also one of the best support systems that anyone who has been or is currently in treatment can have. And it’s good to keep in mind that family doesn’t always have to mean people who are blood-related to a patient. Family can really be anyone who loves a person unconditionally. Family can be someone that an individual feels that they can talk to honestly and freely without judgment for their behaviors.

2. Work with the School’s Student Health Service

Many schools are equipped to help teens with eating disorders make a safe transition back into their previous schedule, so don’t be afraid to reach out for assistance. Additionally, it can be helpful to search online using the keywords “eating disorder treatment near me.” For adolescents entering college, it may be easy to find that health services offices are available right on campus and that they employ a team that specializes in eating disorder treatment.

Parents should have a clear understanding of who will be overseeing their child’s nutrition at school as well. With new social situations, relationships and food choices available, it’s good to have someone by their side to help encourage healthy choices. Some great ways to prevent old habits from popping up again include:

  • Eating meals with a school staff member or having meals in the nurse’s office or counselor’s office with supervision.
  • Sharing meals with parents or other family members during the first few weeks back.
  • Eating with trusted friends who can help hold them accountable and are aware of common eating disorder warning signs.

3. Ease Back into School at a Slower Pace

Whenever possible, it is recommended that individuals acclimate to their old school environment at a slower pace. Because there may be many triggers at the school, parents should play a very hands-on role when determining how much their teens can handle and at what pace. Many patients balance school and treatment by only attending classes for a few hours in the morning. From there they are free to attend a counseling session or other treatment options. This is a great way to allow students to “get their feet wet” and readjust to the many pressure of school life without getting overwhelmed. This is also a good way to not have to worry about their nutritional needs right away. By putting the focus on simply attending a few classes first, their nutritional worries or other anxieties surrounding eating don’t come into play right away.

Where Can I Find an Eating Disorder Clinic Near Me?

If you or a loved one are experiencing early warning signs of an eating disorder, early intervention is extremely important. Often when an individual searches online for “eating disorder treatment near me,” they are left with a wide variety of options and information that can be confusing. At Monte Nido, our friendly, compassionate and experienced staff members are here to help you focus on treatment and make a safe transition back into your normal school life. We understand that parents and their children may be apprehensive of tackling school and after-school programs during treatment but know that these everyday experiences are vital for recovered patients.

Interested in learning more about the treatment options we have available here at Monte Nido? Give us a call at 888-228-1253 or visit us online today to speak with an Admissions Specialist. Our dedicated team members are also happy to share more information on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.