Eating Disorders in High School and Inpatient Treatment

Woman considering trauma and eating disorders

High school is a time of transition of growth, both for teenagers and their families, and many different changes can occur during the high school years, especially as a teenager develops more autonomy and independence.  The high school years can also be a sensitive time for students who may be vulnerable to developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder.

Students may be introduced to dieting and methods of weight control by friends, susceptible to peer pressure or the mainstream media, bullying about body size/weight, or even exposed through athletics.  Whatever the factors may be, it is important to be aware of red flags associated with high school students for early intervention and awareness.

Eating Disorders Among High School Students

It is important to understand that eating disorders result from a combination of multiple factors, including both environmental and biological components.

For a high school student that may already be biologically predisposed to having an eating disorder, certain environmental exposures during high school can trigger eating disorder development.

Research has found that 35-57% of adolescent girls may engage in extreme behaviors to achieve weight loss, including crash dieting, self-induced vomiting, fasting, and/or laxatives or diet pill misuse [1].

Research has found that over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors, and this can be a contributing factor to the onset of eating disorder development [2].

High school students may face a variety of stressors that can be triggering or cause insecurities that lead to abnormal eating behaviors. Many high school students desperately want to fit it, find approval, or feel accepted.

Others may also feel added stress of preparing for and transitioning to college with all that this may involve, including testing, applications, maintaining a high GPA and more.

A high school student who may be emotionally and mentally unable to handle these types of stressors may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. Dieting behaviors, controlling food intake, restricting, etc. can lead to dangerous eating disorders.

Because of the severity of eating disorders and the complexities involved with these mental illnesses, seeking out specialized treatment is advisable. Early interventions can support eating disorder recovery and prevent worsening mental and psychiatric consequences.

Understanding Treatment Options

For many high schoolers who are struggling with eating disorders, professional and specialized treatment is often needed to intervene with potentially deadly behaviors associated with these diseases.

Following the guidance and recommendation of treatment specialists can help improve the prognosis of eating disorders and allow a teenager to find healing and recovery.

Many high schoolers may be concerned about having to leave school and associated activities in order to receive treatment, and families may also be uncertain about how a temporary leave of absence for treatment can cause an academic setback.

First, it is important to know that there are a variety of treatment options available for teenagers in high school who are struggling with an eating disorder. Treatment options can range from inpatient care to outpatient care, with varying levels in between.

The intensity of treatment care needed will depend on the acuity of the illness and the degree of intervention/supervision required for medical and psychiatric stabilization.

Understanding what level of therapy may be most appropriate for your high schooler should be assessed by a specialized eating disorder professional.

The Necessity of Inpatient Treatment

In some cases, inpatient eating disorder treatment may be recommended for a high schooler who is significantly medically and/or psychiatrically compromised.

In the most severe cases of eating disorders, inpatient eating disorder treatment typically involves hospitalization, and some hospitals in the country have a specialized treatment unit for the sickest eating disorder patients.

Treatment stays are usually short term with the goal of stabilizing a patient for transfer to a lower level of care, such as residential treatment.

Intensive inpatient treatment may be helpful for a high schooler who is experiencing a medical or psychiatric crisis related to their eating disorder, allowing for stabilization and prevention of life-threatening consequences.

Again, it is crucial to work with specialized health care providers to understand the necessity of inpatient eating disorder treatment.

Girl struggling with an eating disorderIf you have a high school student who has an eating disorder, and if you are ever in doubt about a symptom or behaviors they may be experiencing, call 9-1-1 immediately or visit your local emergency room for care and treatment.

Having the support of a specialized team can help you and your family make informed decisions when it comes to eating disorder treatment.

Treatment may involve a short inpatient stay, which could be life-saving for a high schooler struggling with an eating disorder. Know that there are a variety of resources to help support you and your loved ones through this difficult time.

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing. As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: Boutelle, K., Neumark-Sztainer, D.,Story, M., &Resnick, M. (2002).Weight control behaviors among obese, overweight, and nonoverweight adolescents. Journal of Pediatric Psychology,27, 531-540.
[2]: The Healthy Teen Project, “Adolescent Eating Disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorders are Treatable”, Accessed 20 August 2017

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer 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 on October 7, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 7, 2017.
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