Helping your Teen with an Eating DisorderHelping your Teen with an Eating Disorder

Center for Discovery has been providing specialized eating disorder treatment to teens and adolescents for over 17 years, and we know how challenging recovery can be. Parents often feel helpless and alone as they struggle to find a way to help their child. Thankfully, there are resources available for parents and families who are caring for a young person with an eating disorder. With the right support, families can face the eating disorder together with strength and hope.

How to Survive a Teen’s Eating Disorder

Pelz (n.d.) outlines six ways to survive a teen’s eating disorder, providing guidelines for parents who are trying to navigate this challenging illness:

1)     Don’t blame yourself: There are many reasons why a teen can develop an eating disorder. Family dynamics are not the primary cause.

2)     Learn as much as you can: Eating disorders are mysterious illnesses. Lean on your teen’s treatment team, ask questions, and read up on the latest research. There are also many good books that provide knowledge and support for those caring for a loved one with an eating disorder.

3)     Take stock of family patterns that may be reinforcing the problem: Again, this does not mean blame yourself. Instead, it means that this is a good time to discover what expectations, communication styles, and family perspectives on weight and exercise could be reinforcing the disorder. Family therapy is a safe place to discuss and challenge these dynamics.

4)     You are going to make mistakes: Talking to a teen with an eating disorder can be impossible at times. Keep trying, and practice what you want to say. Sometimes things will come out wrong. Still, keep trying. Recovery is a long process with many opportunities for growth for everyone.

5)     Eating disorder recovery is a marathon, not a sprint: Everyone is different, and therefore everyone’s recovery journey is different. Recovery can take years. It is important for families to pace themselves and take the process one day at a time. Self-care is also very important- take time to take care of you and recharge your body, mind, and soul.

6)     Get support: Take advantage of parent support groups, online forums, individual counseling, books, and family and friends to help get you through this time. Don’t go it alone. There are many, many resources for families and all of them are a beacon of hope.

Treatment itself requires family involvement, and family therapy is essential so that everyone can be on the same page and working toward the same goals. Some adolescent clients, particularly those suffering from anorexia, benefit from a Maudsley, or Family Based Therapy approach (FBT). This type of treatment is conducted entirely by a therapist certified in the Maudsley approach and teaches families how to take control of the eating disorder and reefed their child.  FBT is conducted in three phases, the first of which focuses almost entirely on weight restoration. Phase 2 returns the control of eating over to the adolescent, and Phase 3 works on establishing a healthy identity without the eating disorder. Studies have shown FBT to be very effective for treating adolescents with anorexia, with two-thirds of clients recovered at the end of treatment and 75-90% still in recovery at 5 year follow-up.

Center for Discovery Can Help

With the right support, families can thrive during the process of a teen’s eating disorder recovery. For more information and to receive valuable support as you care for your teen, please visit Center for Discovery. There you will find a parent guide, treatment options, and a wealth of information about eating disorders. You may also visit the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) and download a Parent Toolkit.



Pelz, A. (n.d.). 6 ways to survive your teen’s eating disorder. PsychCentral: Learn, Share, Grow.

LeGrange, D. and Lock, J. (2013). Family-based Treatment of  Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa: The Maudsley Approach.