Adolescents and Eating Disorders: The Risks of Postponing Treatment

Adolescents and Eating Disorders: The Risks of Postponing Treatment

Recent statistics show that over 2 million adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder [1]. It is estimated that about half of these adolescents experience a severe eating disorder, while the other half will incur a mild-moderate eating disorder.

Mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, are debilitating conditions that can have a lifelong prevalence without intervention and appropriate treatment. While eating disorders among adolescents are recognized, awareness about the severity of these illnesses may be lacking. Sadly, this can create further problems and difficulties for a child who may be struggling and in need of professional and comprehensive eating disorder treatment.

Postponing Eating Disorder Treatment

The development of eating disorders among our nation’s youth is a concerning issue; yet, there is often a disconnect between recognizing the issue and connecting to necessary treatment. There may be a variety of reasons that contribute to this gap, and increased awareness can help adolescents struggling with eating disorders get the help they need sooner.

In many situations, eating disorders go undetected, simply because family members may be unaware of the early warning signs associated with these illnesses. By the time a loved one may recognize that there is an issue at hand, the eating disorder may have severely progressed with escalated symptoms and compounding issues. It is important to be aware that an adolescent does not necessarily need to look “sick” or be underweight to have an eating disorder.

Generally speaking, eating disorders are often misunderstood to be a “disease of vanity”, especially among adolescents, where food behaviors become destructive in order to somehow achieve a certain weight or body size. However, these are the misconceptions that often prevent early awareness, particularly in children. Eating disorders are real mental illnesses with biological underpinnings – not just a fad or phase.

Reasons Treatment May Be Delayed

Other reasons why eating disorder treatment might be delayed among adolescents may include the following:

Difficulty navigating insurance coverage

  • Uncertainty about how or where to get help
  • Lack of resources for treatment
  • Concerns about missing school and/or curricular activities
  • Fear of child having to leave home for treatment
  • Worries about how to discuss an adolescent eating disorder with outsiders

These concerns are valid and understandable. There can be an array of obstacles that may interfere with an adolescent’s ability to get the necessary help they need. Overall, lack of awareness and understanding of eating disorders, limited resources for treatment and uncertainty about how to navigate healthcare can all be contributing factors that ultimately delay access to treatment.

Risks Involved With Delaying Treatment

The problem with delaying the necessary treatment for an adolescent with an eating disorder is that the potential risks involved can increase dramatically over time. Eating disorders are associated with physical, mental, emotional, and psychological consequences, and the longer a child goes without accessing treatment and intervention, the more likely these issues can compound and become more severe.

Eating disorders are also strongly connected with co-occurring mental illnesses and underlying issues, including:

Mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression

  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Because of the complexities involved with eating disorders, immediate connection to comprehensive treatment is the recommended course of action. This can ensure that an adolescent and their family has the needed support to appropriately manage the many factors associated with these mental illnesses.

Eating disorders can incur potentially irreversible effects on the physical, psychological, and emotional growth and development in adolescents. Research has demonstrated that there are improved outcomes with early treatment and intervention, bettering the prognosis of an illness that is associated with a high mortality and morbidity rate [2].

Bridging the Gap

At The Meadows Ranch, we understand the complexity involved with adolescents who may have an eating disorder and the sheer overwhelmingness of the situation that families experience walking this road with their child.

If your child is struggling with an eating disorder, we want you to know that there is absolutely hope for recovery and a full life ahead for her. Our comprehensive eating disorder treatment program for adolescent girls is designed to provide your child and family with the comprehensive care necessary to overcome an eating disorder and underlying issues.

We know this road can be confusing and emotional, and we don’t want you to walk it alone. Postponing or delaying treatment for your child, for any reason, can be risky and lead to increased complications. We can help your family navigate any challenges you might be facing and connect your child to the effective care they need as soon as possible for a full and lasting recovery.


[1]: Adolescent Growth, “Eating Disorder Statistics Among Children Aged 13-18”, Accessed 20 May 2018.

[2]: Golden, Neville H., et al. Eating Disorders in Adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health. Volume 33, Issue 6, 496-503