Are you looking for information about finding treatment for children with eating disorders? Here is the most up-to-date information about eating disorders in children and teens and how to seek appropriate treatment.
Are you concerned about a youth who has compulsive eating behaviors? You may be fostering a teen with an eating disorder or struggling to understand a child’s food hoarding behaviors. Here is what you need to know about kids and eating disorders.
Eating disorders are a serious mental health issue in the United States. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
- Children and Teens with Anorexia
- Children and Teens with Bulimia
- Children and Teens with Binge Eating Disorder
- Eating Disorder Evaluation
- Hospitalization and Inpatient Treatment
- Outpatient Treatment
- Medical Treatment
- Mental Health Treatment
- Nutrition Therapy
- Family Therapy
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are persistent and severe behaviors surrounding and in relation to food. These behaviors impede the child’s ability to function normally in everyday life. An eating disorder in childhood can seriously impact the health and wellbeing of the child.
While eating disorders are serious for both children and adults, maladaptive eating behaviors can impact a child’s growing body in receiving necessary nutrition for healthy growth and development, so it’s especially important to understand the warning signs and seek treatment early if at all possible.
While eating disorders are scary for parents and caregivers, there is hope. Most children do recover and go on to be healthy in their relationship to food.
3 Most Common Eating Disorders
The most common eating disorders of childhood include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.
Children and Teens with Anorexia
Anorexia is an eating disorder that involves self-starvation. Children with this condition restrict food and have a distorted body image. This condition can lead to extreme and unhealthy weight loss.
Children and Teens with Bulimia
Bulimia is a condition where a person eats too much food (binge) and then make themselves throw up. Some people also take large amounts of laxatives to rid their body of food.
Children and Teens with Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) involves a repeated pattern of eating very large quantities of food to the point of feeling physically sick. Food is often eaten very quickly in a systematic way.
While not one of the top 3, another type of eating disorder is Orthorexia which is an unhealthy focus on eating in a healthy way.
Early Signs of Eating Disorders
Are you concerned that a child you care for has an eating disorder?
Here are some behaviors to watch for that can signal a possible eating disorder:
- Especially high or low body weight
- Obsession with food, meal planning, snacks, and recipes
- Refusal to eat or to eat certain types of foods (beyond what is typical)
- Being socially withdrawn
- Unusual or strange behaviors with food
- Over-exercising or desire to exercise to reduce body weight
- Sensitivity to cold
- Eating large amounts of food
- Hiding food or wrappers
- Dishonesty about food habits
Additional Information about Eating Disorders in Childhood
There are multiple unhealthy eating behaviors that can negatively impact the health and development of any child, but may not classify as a typical eating disorder.
Children with a history of trauma (especially in situations where food was not available) may hoard, hide, or sneak food. Food hoarding can be treated by a mental health professional such as a therapist.
Some children feel safer when they have ongoing access to food, such as carrying a small backpack with shelf-stable food items or keeping a box of available foods on a shelf they can always access. They may not even eat these foods but feel safer knowing they are available.
Other children will gorge on food as long as it is available. These children require that food be carefully monitored and even locked away until they can receive proper treatment.
Overeating with Inability to Feel Full
Some children, especially those with specific sensory issues or autism, may lack the ability to recognize their body’s signals that their stomach is full. They may require sensory or feeding therapy to learn their body’s signals. This type of therapy is typically done by an Occupational Therapist.
Does My Child Need Treatment for an Eating Disorder?
Here are two important questions to consider when determining if your child needs treatment for an eating disorder.
- Is the behavior around eating impacting the child’s quality of life?
- Is the behavior around food unsafe or impacting the child’s health?
If you answer “yes” to either of these questions, treatment is definitely required. Even if you suspect an eating disorder but are not sure treatment is necessary yet, it’s better to pursue treatment when in doubt. Early treatment can lessen the severity of the eating issues long-term.
Discuss the situation with your child but remember that he or she might be very resistant to treatment because the thought of giving up their current use of food is scary.
It’s also possible that malnourishment is affecting their decision-making, so it’s possible you will need to step in and provide treatment against their wishes. This is a heart-breaking situation to be in, but know that you are the parent and must ultimately do what is best for your child.
Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and there should be a discussion between the parent and the child about what their expectations are. There are different treatments available for eating disorders as well as different levels of severity which should also be taken into consideration.
There are many misconceptions surrounding EDs. The first misconception is that it will eventually go away on its own; this is not true. The second misconception that people have is that eating disorders are caused by too much information or knowledge. Talking about the situation will not cause your child further harm. Finally, sometimes people assume that one treatment will cure an eating disorder, but a more realistic approach is that this will be a long-term process that may involve multiple treatments.
Treatment Options for Teens with Eating Disorders
Here are some of the options available for treatment for Eating Disorders.
Eating Disorder Evaluation
Eating disorder evaluation must be conducted by a qualified professional such as a therapist. While there are eating disorder quizzes online, these cannot replace an in-depth evaluation. If you are enrolling your child in a treatment program, an evaluation will be conducted there at the start of the treatment process.
Hospitalization and Inpatient Treatment
Inpatient treatment aims to help youth identify and address the underlying causes of their illness while providing a supervised living environment free from food and other sources of triggers that may make recovery more difficult.
The length of stay varies by facility but is typically around 30 days per program cycle, with one, two or three cycles typically covered by insurance for children and adolescents who are still maturing physically and cognitively.
Outpatient treatment of eating disorders can be a highly effective component of a comprehensive treatment plan for people struggling with the disease. People who successfully complete outpatient treatment and maintain good health and nutrition can return to their normal lives and live productive lives.
Outpatient treatment may include: group therapy, individual therapy, medical supervision, nutritional counseling, behavior modification techniques, psychosocial family therapy or intensive outpatient programs.
Because eating disorders affect the whole person, a team approach is required for treatment. A medical professional will conduct an examination to determine if your child is underweight or overweight. Blood may be drawn to test for nutritional deficiencies. Other tests may need to be conducted such as dental care in the case of bulimia.
Mental Health Treatment
Mental health treatment will be a key component to your child’s recovery. This treatment must be done by a therapist who has expertise in eating disorders.
While there is no one specific medication for eating disorders, there are medications that can supplement treatment, such as anti-depressants and mood stabilizers. The medication Vyvance was recently approved to treat Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
A Registered Dietician is an important part of the treatment team for eating disorders. An RD can provide help with meal plans, daily calorie needs, and lead a child or teen into choosing foods that are safe for them to eat without triggering disordered eating patterns.
Even though your child is the one with the condition, eating disorders affect the entire family and treatment needs to be viewed with a family and team approach.
How to Pay for Eating Disorder Treatment
Eating disorder treatment costs will vary greatly depending on type of treatment. Inpatient treatment is the most expensive with programs costing as much as $3,000 per day or $30,000 per month. Outpatient treatment is still costly but far less expensive.
Insurance, including Medicaid, will cover treatment if providers can prove the person needs therapy. You may need to appeal and advocate for insurance to cover needed treatment. If necessary, consider using an advocate to help you fund necessary programs for your child or teen.
Some private programs require self-pay for treatment.
Click here for more about how to fund residential treatment for children and youth.
Eating Disorder Treatment Near Me: How Do I Find Help for My Child with an Eating Disorder?
Here are some helpful resources to find eating disorder treatment near you.
NEDA – National Eating Disorders Association Treatment Finder – This tool allows you to search for eating disorder treatment by city, state, and zip code.
Free and Low Cost Eating Disorder Treatment – NEDA also provides these free ED treatment and support options.
ANAD Treatment Directory – Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) offers this online and telephone treatment directory to help you find treatment options.
While eating disorders for children and teens can feel scary and overwhelming, treatment is available. Hold on to hope that your child can get well and heal from these disorders.
Have you found eating disorder treatment to help your child or are are seeking treatment? Share about it in the comments below.
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