Teenagers & Eating Disorder Treatment: Keeping Up in School

Teen struggling with school and in eating disorder treatment

Many adolescents and teenagers today face eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Because of the severity of these mental illnesses, professional treatment and interventions are necessary and crucial to prevent worsening of symptoms.

Research has found that more adolescents and teenagers are impacted by eating disorders than type 2 diabetes, with restrictive eating disorders occurring more commonly than other chronic illnesses [1].

The most effective treatment approaches include multidisciplinary treatment and sometimes hospitalization.

Eating Disorder Treatment for Teenagers

The level of care needed for eating disorder treatment may vary according to the severity of the illness. Teenagers who are experiencing medical/psychiatric instability related to the eating disorder will typically require treatment at a more acute level of care, such as inpatient hospitalization and/or residential treatment.

Eating disorders that are less severe may possibly be managed at an intensive outpatient or outpatient level of care. When assessing the most appropriate level of care for treatment, it is important to follow the professional recommendations given by eating disorder specialists in order to maximize treatment efforts.

Many teenagers may be resistant to treatment due to fear of missing out on social activities or even falling behind in school. For a student who is involved in many activities or even in a transition for college preparation, the decision to take a break to prioritize eating disorder treatment can be difficult to make.

Stressing the importance of treatment as a gateway to a hopeful future is often necessary when encouraging a teenager toward eating disorder treatment. If falling behind in school is a concern, it may be helpful to appropriately address this issue with academic advisors and devise a plan for staying on course.

Academic Options During Treatment

When considering academic options during eating disorder treatment, it is necessary to keep priorities in check.

A teenager or adolescent who is severely impacted by an eating disorder is likely facing many challenges keeping up with their academics as it is, as cognition often malfunctions due to lack of proper nutrition.

Teen girl smilingMany students with eating disorders may already be struggling in school, have a decreased ability to concentrate, focus, and process information, and be less able to perform tasks compared to their peers without eating disorders [2].

Deficiencies in both macro and micronutrients can lead to an overall diminished ability to be a successful student in school, both academically and socially.

During the early phases of eating disorder treatment, particularly when establishing medical and psychiatric stability, it may not be appropriate to incorporate any form of academic school work.

The recovery process is often overwhelming for a teenager or adolescent, and allowing room to just focus on healing can eliminate any unnecessary stress or pressure.

There may come a point in the recovery process when it is appropriate for the student to revisit academic work, at a pace that is suitable to their recovery and treatment efforts. This should be collaboratively discussed and planned with their treatment team and school academic advisors.

Keeping Recovery a Priority

Because of the severity and chronicity of eating disorders, treatment may extend much longer than anticipated. It is important to take the necessary and recommended steps to improve prognosis and make a full recovery, when possible.

If an extended leave from school is possible, it is important to determine what steps should be taken to help a student make up any missed work under the guidance of both treatment professionals and academic advisors. In many cases, when a student has reached a certain point in their treatment, incorporating some form of “home study” or academic work with a qualified tutor can support a student’s effort to catch up with missed schooling.

Teen boyOverall, when a student’s health is prioritized and necessary steps are taken for treatment, a teenager is enabled to have a much brighter future that allows them the opportunity to thrive. Research has found that individuals who seek out early intervention for treatment within the first one to three years of the onset of the illness have a significantly improved chance for recovery [3].

While it is difficult to miss out on many enjoyable and important aspects of life due to eating disorder treatment, seeking out professional care is a vital step toward ensuring that one’s life can be lived to its fullest potential.

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]: Leora Pinhas, MD, FRCPC, et al.  Incidence and age-specific presentation of restrictive eating disorders in children.  Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(10):895-899.
[2]:  Bulimia Guide, “Impact of Eating DIsorders on Cognitive Abilities and Functioning in School”, http://www.bulimiaguide.org/summary/detail.aspx?doc_id=9480&hide=1 Accessed 8 June 2017
[3]: David Herzog, et al.  Mortality in eating disorders: a descriptive study.  International Journal of Eating Disorders July 2000 28(1):20-6

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 July 12, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 12, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com