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What to Expect When Pursuing Family Informed Nutrition Therapy for Your Teen With an Eating Disorder

AUTHOR: Kelsey Peterson, MS, RD, CEDRD

As a dietitian specializing in the treatment of teens with eating disorders, I have found tremendous success in involving the family in treatment. At Nutrition Instincts we don’t claim to offer the exact framework and setting as traditional Family-Based-Treatment (also known as Maudsley, FBT, and Family-Based-Therapy), families and teens who may have received FBT care at an eating disorder treatment center will likely appreciate Family Informed Nutrition Therapy, as it’s certainly inspired by the FBT approach.

Parents are often a highly motivated and great external source of safety, containment, and support. Although nervous at first, parents who come into my office with fears of their inability to help their teen often feel an increase in confidence within just a few sessions . Here are three common questions I get from families and my answers to each:

What type of medical professionals should be involved in my Teen’s care and how often do you communicate with them?

Most of my clients have a therapist (ideally one familiar with Family Informed Therapy), psychiatrist, medical doctor, and you, the parents! In order to provide the highest level of care, I communicate with this treatment team on a weekly basis, or, after every session I have with your teen. Due to the complexities of eating disorder treatment, I have found that consistent and thorough communication within treatment team members to be imperative to the recovery process. So, expect weekly calls or emails with updates on pertinent dietary information and progress. 

What does family-informed eating disorder treatment look like for teens?

It’s hard to describe this in a single answer but I often summarize treatment in the following 3 steps:

Step 1: Parents assume responsibility of re-feeding their teen.

This includes the timing, preparation, and plating of all meals. Now, don’t panic! I am here every step of the way to guide this process and adequately prepare all families so they feel confident and comfortable with this role.

Step 2: Your teen begins taking responsibility of their eating.

While this can be nerve wracking for parents at first, slow and steady steps are taken to allow your teen to reclaim their autonomy around food. This might begin with plating a single snack or choosing a preferred dinner item. I am with the parents and teens every step of the way to ensure that the child continues to nourish themselves appropriately and adequately without resorting back to eating disorder behaviors. 

Step 3: The teen reclaims their own full autonomy around food.

After the teen has continually demonstrated their ability to nourish themselves appropriately, the teen can begin choosing how much to eat during meals and snacks (based on their cues and knowledge of their needs) and begins to practice participating in meal preparation and planning so that they’ll have those skills when they’re ready to leave home in the future. This includes particpating in choosing, preparation (outside of family meals) and plating of all meals and snacks. 

How long does treatment take?

This is incredibly individual and not so easily answered. I have had families work with me for several months up to a couple years. Eating disorder treatment takes time and patience. I check in with my families every month to inform them what step of the process they are in and what to anticipate the following month. Although creating an exact timeline is difficult, I like to keep my families “in the loop” regarding the progression and timing of treatment. One thing is for certain, studies show that the quicker you pursue treatment once an adolescent is diagnosed with an eating disorder, the better the chance of recovery! So, let’s hit the ground running!

Each step is a process that takes time, patience and lots of grace. I continue to reassure my families that I am here to guide them every step of the way and always make sure that after each session they feel confident about the goals moving into each week.

photo of Kelsey Peterson, dietitian at nutrition instincts san diego nutrition therapy
Kelsey Peterson, dietitian at nutrition instincts san diego nutrition therapy

AUTHOR: Kelsey Peterson, MS, RDN, CEDRD

Kelsey Peterson is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian, Intuitive Eating Counselor and Lead Dietitian at Nutrition Instincts. She is the President of the California Dietetic Association, San Diego District and Treasurer of the International Association for Eating Disorder Professionals, San Diego District. Kelsey is passionate about her work and finds tremendous joy working with her clients in their pursuit of mind and body wellness. To schedule with Kelsey, set up a free clarity call today!

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