Eating Disorders in Adolescents

The social, societal, and academic pressures of adolescence can catapult early body dissatisfaction into problematic behaviors, such as binging, purging, overexercising, and/or severely restricting dietary intake. Preoccupation with body size and shape and/or food can inhibit a young person’s ability to fully engage with life experiences, and can have dire impacts on physical health, mood, family and peer relationships, and academic performance. A recent study found that over 500 million adolescents in the US met criteria for eating disorders; the vast majority of these teens suffer difficulties in multiple areas of functioning, and many also reported having suicide plans and/or attempts. Clearly, securing effective treatment as soon as possible is critical.

Evidence-based treatments for adolescents with eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, or problematic eating patterns begin with a careful, age-appropriate assessment to determine the extent, impact, and function of the symptoms. Treatment then involves psychoeducation for the teen and family, and, in most cases, intervention by a multi-disciplinary team including a behavioral therapist, dietician, medical doctor, and/or psychopharmacologist. While some teens may be treated effectively for eating disorders at the outpatient level of care, others may first require referral to a higher level of care (such as a hospital, residential treatment center, or intensive day program) to ensure safety and medical stability.

Evidence-based behavioral therapies for teens with eating disorders include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), along with Family Based Treatment (FBT) for those under 18.