We have updated our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions. By using this website, you consent to our Terms and Conditions.


Common Pitfalls in Adolescent Eating Disorder Recovery and How to Avoid Them

Upon discharging from an eating disorder treatment center, adolescents must continue using their healthy coping skills to remain recovered. Through the use of these methods, adolescents can better handle the stressors in their daily lives without returning to disordered thoughts and behaviors as coping mechanisms. The removal of these obstacles allows children to return their focus to their preferred educational and social activities. This may also help restore their quality of life through the elimination of adolescents eating disorder symptoms.

The process of becoming and remaining recovered is never perfect and can include old and new triggers. These triggers can complicate recovery from eating disorders in adolescence, necessitating continued care through the teen years, if not longer. Parents can help their children avoid these pitfalls and continue to in recovery and acquire help from eating disorder recovery centers whenever needed.

Understanding the most common pitfalls to avoid, parents can help their kids avoid disordered thoughts and behaviors to remain recovered. They can use this guide to explore this topic in more detail as they prepare to provide their children with support in remaining recovered from eating disorders.

Slipping Back into Disordered Thought Patterns

If adolescents start to re-experience disordered thoughts, they may face difficulties in remaining recovered. The disordered thoughts can start to derail their progress and cause doubts to surface, complicating recovery from eating disorders. Children often need help continually challenging these thoughts, especially when they negativity cloud their perceptions.

Although occasional negative thoughts are a normal part of growing up, children should work to banish the negativity to move through life with confidence. Otherwise, the onslaught of negative thoughts may cause shifts in how they see themselves and perceive the world. They may also start to change the way they think about eating and exercise habits, increasing the risk of relapse.

While in eating disorder counseling, adolescents learn how to challenge these negative thought patterns and replace them with helpful thoughts. Mindfulness training is a big part of this process and can help with challenging these thoughts outside of the treatment center. Parents can also help their children utilize mindfulness and other helpful coping skills to banish the disordered thoughts and move forward in recovery. If the dysfunctional thoughts and perceptions cannot be controlled in this manner, parents can help their children acquire additional help at eating disorder treatment centers.

Skipping Healthy Coping Skills in Favor of Disordered Coping Behaviors

Children or adolescents with eating disorders need to continually rely on their healthy coping skills to handle the stressors that arise in their daily lives. Children and adolescents face a lot of different stressors that may take a toll if not properly addressed. When adolescents begin to revert back to using disordered behaviors to cope, they are likely sliding toward a return of their eating disorder symptoms and need immediate help.

Children or adolescents with eating disorders may need to practice selecting methods from their toolbox of healthy coping skills, as is appropriate for every stressor they face. Through each stage of life, these skills may change, prompting these individuals to continually adjust their approach to managing stress and remaining recovered. This means a lot of practice and the need for plenty of support from parents and professionals at eating disorder treatment centers.

When children can match their healthy coping skills to the situation, they are better able to avoid disordered behaviors overall. Parents can help their kids use their toolbox and add healthy coping skills as needed to remain recovered. This process is a lifelong venture that children need to learn how to manage themselves; but this comes with time. During adolescence, parents and other caregivers will need to offer immense guidance and support to combat against on disordered coping behaviors.

Arguing About Symptoms, Behaviors and Thought Patterns

When perceptions start to shift and disordered behaviors follow, parents may try to use logic to communicate with their children and help them remain recovered. Unfortunately, logic does not go very far in getting through to children or teens about topics in which they may have skewed perceptions. If they cannot see their symptoms, behaviors or thought patterns for what they are, parents must intervene and acquire help for their kids.

Simply trying to argue the point does very little in helping kids return to healthy thought patterns and behaviors. It also does not halt the symptoms of adolescents eating disorders, no matter how hard parents may try. Instead of using logic, it is important to reach out to the professionals at eating disorder recovery centers for additional support. These experts can assess the child’s state of mind and health status to determine the best level of support to provide.

Kids may need to return to the eating disorder treatment centers for additional care and guidance on an inpatient or outpatient basis. If caught early enough, it may be possible to reverse the return of disordered patterns with outpatient therapy sessions and educational workshops. Parents can attend these sessions and workshops alongside their child to learn how to provide their support through every stage of recovery.

Decreasing Parental Involvement in Remaining Recovered

As kids return home from eating disorder treatment centers, parents often want to respect their space and may give too much freedom too soon. Adolescents with eating disorders need their parents’ full involvement and support after graduating from treatment and in the months or years afterward. Without this guidance, kids may have difficulty handling daily stressors and using their healthy coping skills in an effective manner.

When parents set fair boundaries and enforce them, they communicate their love and support to their child. Children and teens tend to thrive when they have clear rules to follow that assist in living a healthy, happy life. As they are still learning and developing, children cannot always follow their plan in remaining recovered. They benefit from having their parents act as a guide in making the right choices for their continued wellbeing.

Parents need to remain watchful in identifying any disordered thought patterns or behaviors that may return. Noticing this problem right away can help ensure children and adolescents receive the continued support they need to eliminate these patterns. For these reasons, parental involvement will remain paramount in helping kids with eating disorders remain recovered over the years.

Avoiding Setting Limits That Help with Recovery

Kids receive the tools they need to remain recovered in eating disorder treatment centers, but they do not always have the willpower and wisdom to use them effectively. Parents often have to do the heavy lifting by establishing boundaries that provide children and teens a healthy framework for their daily lives. With this framework, kids can work with their toolbox of coping skills in managing stress while completing normal daily activities.

The boundaries can help when children face difficult challenges, including real-life situations that bring up any associated eating disorder triggers. The framework guides their choices and takes the fear of the unknown out of the equation. Adolescents with eating disorders tend to feel much less overwhelmed and afraid when they know they have their parents or loved ones support and guidance.

Parents do not need to create the boundaries from scratch, however, as eating disorder recovery centers establish the foundation. Family programming brings parents into the treatment center to explore this foundation and learn about the boundaries that will assist children and teens in remaining recovered at home. Parents can then build upon these areas to create common sense boundaries that provide adolescents the appropriate level of support.

Pushing Forward Too Soon and Too Quickly

Although parents play a vital role in helping their kids remain recovered, children also must remain responsible for their own wellbeing. They should be expected to take the initiative to use their healthy coping skills and challenge any negative thoughts that arise. Children and teens cannot take on all of this responsibility all at once, however. There needs to be a gradual return to full responsibility and continued guidance every step of the way.

Pushing forward too soon and too quickly can result in a backslide that necessitates additional support from the treatment center care teams. Children and adolescents with eating disorders benefit from gaining independence slowly while remaining responsible for themselves. They may need a little extra support from their parents and care team to work through problem areas and triggering situations.

To appropriately support their children, parents must continually gauge their child’s state of wellbeing at any given point in time. They can then dial in the level of support vs. independence they grant to help kids take on as much responsibility as they can handle without overwhelming them. With time, this approach helps children learn how to become fully responsible for their health and wellbeing without cracking under the pressure.

Missing Out on Opportunities for Continued Support

Eating disorder treatment centers offer their alumnae continued opportunities for support that assist them in remaining recovered. The lines of support offered by treatment centers include educational workshops, alumnae therapy sessions and digital resources. Adolescents with eating disorders and their parents can tap into these resources anytime they need additional support or simply want to learn more.

These educational and support-based opportunities allow children and their families to build their coping skill toolkits and gain the knowledge they need in recovery. Digital workshops, for example, allow kids and parents to explore well-defined topics that directly address their challenges and the leading solutions. By exploring the key areas in this manner, children and adolescents can confidently forge ahead in remaining recovered and their parents can provide the support they need through it all.

Adolescents eating disorder therapy sessions go one step further by inviting children and families back to the treatment centers for support. They may attend family therapy as a group with many other parents and their children or solo sessions with just their family alone. Children may attend therapy sessions alongside other alumnae and without their parents for individualized support. They may also go to group therapy compromised of past and current patients to gain perspective and see their journey in a whole new light.

Failing to Reach Out for Help from Eating Disorder Recovery Centers

When disordered thought patterns and behaviors return, parents need to reach out for help for their children right away. By helping their children and adolescents receive help at the first sign of a problem, it is possible to replace disordered patterns with ones that support adolescents with eating disorders in becoming and remaining recovered. At some point, reaching out for help is the best option in preventing a full relapse. Children and teens can always return to outpatient treatment or other programs to get past their challenges and continue on the path to recovery.

Our experienced clinicians and staff will use their expertise to help children and adolescents feel welcomed and supported as they seek care. Parents can rely on this team to provide them with the guidance they need to fully support their children through treatment and after graduating from the eating disorder recovery center.

With a clear understanding of the most common pitfalls in adolescent eating disorder recovery, parents can effectively help their children and teens avoid relapse and focus on wellness. As challenges arise, they can use their knowledge of these pitfalls to take the right steps and support their kids’ journey toward becoming and remaining recovered.






Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido, 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.