Eating Disorder Treatment for Children and Teens

It can be very scary when your child or teen with an eating disorder struggles at meals, has very few foods they will eat, or has lost weight. No parent expects their child to develop an eating disorder, and it can understandably be confusing. You may receive lots of conflicting advice about whether to confront the issue or leave them alone, whether to require them to eat or let them go hungry. We can guide you through the process of helping your child or teen through our specialized treatments for children and teens with eating disorders.

Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED), often emerge for the first time during adolescence. Some types of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) often begin in early childhood. Our eating disorder specialist therapists work with children 10 and up.

Children and teens are not just little adults —they need the support of family in their treatment. For teens with anorexia, bulimia, or other specified feeding or eating disorder, we provide Family-Based Treatment (FBT), which is the leading evidence-based treatment for children and teens with eating disorders.

Family-based treatment FBT for eating disorders [Image description: a teen girl sits at a meal with parents on either side and a younger brother and a dog]

Family-Based Treatment for Child and Teen Eating Disorders

Maybe your child or teen has been diagnosed with an eating disorder. If your teen has not been diagnosed, but you are reading this page, something is probably going on. You may recognize the need for your teen to gain weight but can’t figure out how to get them to eat. Maybe your teen is engaging in unhealthy behaviors—such as severe dieting, bingeing, purging, or excessive exercise—that you don’t know how to address. Maybe your teen is expressing very negative thoughts about their body. Or perhaps your teen is in an eating disorder treatment program that excludes you from the treatment altogether and you want to be more involved. You are probably feeling scared, confused, and overwhelmed.

The good news is that you can confront the eating disorder—as a family. We are specialists in Family-Based Treatment (FBT) for eating disorders. Our owner and clinical director, Dr. Muhlheim, has written a leading book for parents on FBT and we are well-known specialists in providing this treatment.

Not only does this approach better empower you, the parent—it is actually the most effective way to tackle an eating disorder. FBT is the leading treatment for teen eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and atypical and subthreshold eating disorders. It places you at the helm of recovery, driving your teen toward healthy eating and other recovery-consistent behaviors. In FBT you can lovingly help your teen recover at home. Often, you can avoid sending your child away to residential treatment.

Family-Based Treatment is a treatment that gives parents the tools they need to plan, prepare, serve, and supervise meals for their children and teens with eating disorders. It recognizes the importance of food and regular eating for brain recovery. Our therapists are trained in FBT by both Dr. Muhlheim and the eating disorder researchers at Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco who developed the treatment.

Our therapists will first perform an assessment and then guide you through the process of helping your child or teen overcome their difficulties with eating and get back to health. In this treatment, you will learn the importance of prioritizing food, how to feed them for recovery, how to manage meals, and how to manage the emotional storms of an under-nourished child. We help you to separate your teen from their eating disorder.

Although we have worked with many different treatment providers, for family-based treatment, we strongly encourage the inclusion of our preferred FBT-aligned dietitian and medical provider to offer you the most support as you undertake the task of nursing your child back to health.

Family-Based Cognitive Behavior Therapy for ARFID (CBT-AR)

Maybe your child is not concerned about their weight but is a picky eater. Maybe they have a very narrow list of foods they will eat. Or maybe they exhibit low appetite, aren’t excited about food, or get full very easily. Or maybe your child is afraid of choking or throwing up after eating. For children and teens with Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), we provide a family version of CBT-AR, the leading treatment for people with ARFID. Our therapists have all received training in CBT-AR. Our practice owner, Dr. Muhlheim, and clinical supervisor, Carolyn Comas, LCSW have trained with the treatment developers at Harvard.

We can conduct an assessment to correctly diagnose your child and determine an appropriate treatment plan. We will first work with you to help ensure your child or teen is getting enough food. We can guide you to provide a consistent meal schedule based on their preferred foods. We also help you to help them tolerate larger amounts of food and gain weight if that is necessary. We review growth records to help determine whether weight gain is needed.

We also help your child or teen identify foods that will help expand the range of foods they will eat. Although the process differs depending on which type of ARFID is being addressed (fear of aversive consequences, low interest, or sensory sensitivity), the goal is to identify foods that will help the individual reach their goals whether that goal is to include more foods from different food groups to promote health or to be able to eat more complex foods more comfortably at restaurants to improve one’s ability to socialize with peers.

In addition to meals, you will be asked to support your child or teen in completing homework which involves tasting or eating novel foods and working to incorporate new foods into their diet.

Groups for Children and Teens with Eating Disorders

We know that supporting a teen or a child with an eating disorder can be extremely challenging for parents and that is why we have created some additional resources including our popular groups:

All of the therapies outlined above can be provided online to families anywhere in California or in our offices in Los Angeles. Please reach out to learn more or to schedule an intake. We also accept several insurances.


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