Continuing Care for Anorexia from Childhood to Adulthood

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Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a fear of gaining weight [1]. This fear leads to disordered behaviors to lose weight, such as severe food restriction or obsessive exercise. These behaviors result in individuals becoming significantly underweight.

Anorexia is a severe, potentially deadly mental illness due to potential medical complications that result from being underweight and malnourished [1]. Given how dangerous anorexia is, it is important to make the treatment process as effective as possible. 

Recovery from anorexia often takes several years [1]. Most people with anorexia developed the disorder in adolescence [1]. It is important for care to be consistent during these years to support them in continuing to recover. Currently, there is one gap in the treatment process that threatens the consistency of treatment for anorexia [1]. 

Often treatment centers transition clients to new programs once they become adults. This is a vulnerable time in the treatment process, with an increased risk for relapse. Many individuals drop out of treatment during this transition because it can be very stressful [1]. 

Research shows there are a few ways to better support people with continued care for anorexia from childhood to adulthood. These are:

Support During the Transition

Many adolescents have said that during the transition from adolescent to adult treatment programs that they did not feel supported [1]. Support during this time is very important because this transition can be very stressful. This is important to be aware of because anorexia is often is a way to cope with difficult emotions [1]. 

African American adolescent in anorexia recoveryResearch shows that many individuals turn to their eating disorder to cope with the stress of changing treatment programs [1]. To help with how stressful this experience, it is important for family members to continue to provide support during this time. 

It is also helpful that while an individual is still receiving care from an adolescent program, they are able to meet the people they will be working with while in the adult program [1]. This preparation can reduce feelings of uncertainty that make this process so stressful. 

This is also beneficial because it takes time to build a relationship with therapists and other treatment professionals. This relationship is very important in the treatment being successful [1]. Being able to begin developing trust before transitioning from an adolescent program can help make their recovery and transition a smoother process [1]. 

Individualized Treatment for Anorexia

Everybody is different. This means that everybody’s needs during treatment will be different. Research shows that people going through the transition process benefit from having a say in the changes to their treatment [1]. While this may be difficult given current policies that govern treatment programs, it is important to give people a voice while making decisions about their treatment [1]. 

Treatment is ultimately for them, so their opinion is crucial and should be valued. This can also reduce feelings of helplessness and frustration that can make the continued care process more difficult. 


[1] Lockertsen, V., Nilsen, L., Wellhaven Holm, L.A., Rø, Ø., Burger, L.M., & Røssberg, J.I. (2020). Experiences of patients with anorexia nervosa during the transition from child and adolescent mental health services to adult mental health services. Journal of Eating Disorders, 8(37), 1-11. 

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published November 24, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on November 24, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.