When Should Parents Consider Eating Disorder Counseling for Adolescents?

Seeking treatment for any mental health disorder can be a frightening process. For most people, there is a considerable stigma attached to mental health conditions, and admitting that there is a problem is an essential first step in the recovery process. For adolescents with eating disorders, there is often another barrier that they must overcome — speaking out to a loved one or another trusted adult. But studies indicate that early intervention is often essential to long-term eating disorder recovery, especially for adolescents. While discussing a fad diet, purging behaviors, or the potential development of an eating disorder can be difficult subjects for parents to approach with their child, offering support during the recovery process is crucial. From there, families can begin to explore eating disorder counseling options and the best course for recovery.

Eating disorders often arise for the first time during adolescence. This period of a person’s life is rife with changes; as they transition to adulthood, an individual must cope with a changing body, a changing role in society, new responsibilities, and burgeoning sexuality. All of these factors can influence a teenager’s body image and may spur the development of disordered eating patterns. Although changes in a teen’s eating patterns are not necessarily a cause for concern, parents should be aware of the challenges during this time, and be prepared to discuss potential problems with their child.

When Should Parents Consider Teenage Eating Disorder Treatment?

Before families can begin the search for an appropriate adolescent center for eating disorders near them, it’s a good idea to become more familiar with the early warning signs and symptoms of common eating disorders. This research can help parents to understand their children better, what they are experiencing mentally and physically — and prepare everyone in the family for the road ahead.

Some early warning signs of common eating disorders include:

  • Dramatic weight fluctuations and weight loss
  • A preoccupation with food, dieting, calories, fat grams, body shape, and body weight
  • Refusal to eat certain foods, like carbohydrates, dairy, etc.
  • The development of food rituals that may include eating foods in a specific order, excessive chewing, not allowing foods to touch, etc.
  • Maintaining a very rigid exercise routine despite illness, inclement weather, and personal commitments
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Withdrawal from regular social obligations, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks
  • Hiding or hoarding food
  • Eating in secret and/or consuming large amounts of food in secret
  • Dizziness, fainting, and sleep problems
  • Tooth enamel erosion, cavities, tooth sensitivity, etc.

Normally, the first step in securing eating disorder treatment will not be to contact a specialized facility, although that may be an eventuality. In most cases, an appointment with a child therapist or psychiatrist is the better option. Even if they don’t specialize in eating disorder diagnoses, they will be familiar with the symptoms and able to make a referral to the correct people. They may also be able to counsel the parents on how to deal with the situation compassionately and effectively. Before any of that, however, there should be a serious talk between parents and their child.

How Do You Know It’s Time for Eating Disorder Counseling?

Chances are, if parents have already begun to worry about their child’s disordered food behaviors or if adolescents are expressing their own concerns, it’s time to seek professional help. At this point, everyone in the family can likely understand that something is off and understands that the problem won’t simply go away on its own. If thoughts surrounding food, dieting, body weight, exercise, and body shape are ruling someone’s life, they may have an eating disorder and should speak to a trusted medical professional about a diagnosis.

The journey toward recovery begins when adolescent clients can admit there is a problem. While this can be hard to do — especially in a society that values the ability to manage stressors independently, distorted thinking and patterns surrounding food can be treated. The good news is that, with the help of teenage eating disorder treatment, these behaviors can be replaced with new and positive coping skills.

How Can Parents Talk to Teens About Eating Disorders?

The National Eating Disorders Association recommends that parents and loved ones take the time to approach the subject thoughtfully and with patience. They should be ready to ask questions and also give some answers themselves. The more informed parents are surrounding eating disorders and different treatment options, the better. Some introductory questions parents may want to use, include:

  • When did you start having different thoughts about food, exercise, and weight? What kind of thoughts did you have?
  • When did you notice changes in your behaviors? Which behaviors seemed out of the ordinary? What were you trying to accomplish with these new behaviors?
  • Have you noticed any physical health changes like lack of sleep, digestive problems, or dizziness? Any emotional changes like anxiety or depression?
  • How do you feel today?
  • How can I best support you?

It should go without saying that parents should go to great lengths to avoid being (or seeming) judgmental. Eating disorders often carry with them a sense of guilt and shame, as well as a sense that others are making judgments about a person’s body. If an adolescent feels like they are being judged because of their disorder, they may retreat from the possibility of getting help, worse, they may stop talking to their parents about the issue at hand. Always listen more than you talk, and steer clear of accusatory or judgmental statements.

Get Started on Treatment for Eating Disorders Early

Over years of experience, we have learned hat teenage eating disorders treatment is a long and sometimes stressful process. However, with the help of professional eating disorder counseling and a reliable support system at home, adolescents can enjoy long-term recovery. Reach out sooner rather than later for more information on our adolescent eating disorder counseling programs and be sure to speak with a friendly admissions specialist.

With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.