Seeking Help for a Child or Teen with an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are complex illnesses with biological, psychological and socio-cultural implications. Finding the most effective, knowledgeable health care providers for the treatment of eating disorders in children and adolescents can be a difficult process. Below are several key considerations for parents:

1. Medical Component: The first priority in seeking treatment is your child’s physical health.

  • Identify a medical provider, which could be a primary care physician or a pediatrician.
  • Make sure this provider evaluates your child’s current body weight versus ideal body weight, current blood work, and current vitals, such as blood pressure, pulse, temperature and pulse oxygen. An ECG is also recommended.
  • Ask for a “blind weight,” in which your child turns his or her back away from the scale and is not told his or her weight.
  • If your child refuses to go to the medical appointment or cooperate with the assessment, stress how critical it is to be healthy, especially if he or she wants to remain in school, sports and other activities he or she enjoys.

2. Psychological Component: Psychological evaluation is an important activity when exploring whether your child has disordered eating or meets the criteria for an eating disorder.

  • Identify a mental health provider, which could be a psychiatrist or therapist (PhD, PsyD, LPC, LCSW).
  • Look for a provider who has a specialty in treating eating disorders.
  • Make sure you, and not just your child, are part of the assessment process. Providers should ask for information from parents or guardians in addition to meeting with the child or teen.

3. Communication: Finding the appropriate treatment providers is important, but making sure the treatment providers are communicating with each other is vital.

  • Ask all providers, including medical, mental health, dietary and other health professionals, if they are willing to consult with the other providers involved in your child’s care.
  • Give each provider the phone numbers, fax numbers and even e-mail addresses for the other providers.
  • Stay involved and aware, but do not be the “go between.” Ask the providers to give information directly to each other.
  • Make sure you, as a parent, are seen as an integral part of the treatment team, and your providers continue to meet with you concerning your observations and concerns.