Group of Illnesses Characterized by Abnormal Eating Habits

Eating disorders are a group of illnesses that are characterized by abnormal eating habits. Symptoms frequently develop during the teenage or young adult years, but an eating disorder can appear at any point in life.

At Penn State Children’s Hospital, we know that it can be worrisome to have a child with an eating disorder. Our dedicated team takes a family-centered approach, focusing both on the patient and the patient’s family. We believe that the eating disorder healing process requires support and collaboration of parents and caregivers, and we encourage you to be directly involved in your child’s recovery and care. We offer different levels of care depending on the patient’s needs and personal circumstances.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

It can be tricky to identify an eating disorder in children and adolescents; however, as a parent and caregiver, your intuition is your best tool. If you notice your child’s behavior and attitude toward food begin to change – including eating fewer portions, skipping meals or suddenly starting food rituals – or a new fixation on weight, calories and dieting, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. They will be able to assess your child’s weight and overall health and recommend reaching out to our program.

During your child’s first visit to Penn State Children’s Hospital, they will see one of our compassionate providers, undergoing a physical exam and going through a comprehensive medical history. Additional services might also be ordered at this time, including bloodwork or an electrocardiogram (EKG). Your child’s physician will then meet with you to make a recommendation on the appropriate level of treatment.

With the proper intervention and support, children with eating disorders can recover and return to healthy eating habits and a positive body image. If left untreated, an eating disorder can have a lifelong impact on your child’s physical and emotional health.

Our Experts in Care

The experts at Penn State Children’s Hospital are committed to providing our pediatric patients with comprehensive and multidisciplinary care.

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Why Choose Penn State Children’s Hospital for Care

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is the core of our young patient programs. This proven method treats eating disorders by encouraging patients to confront – rather than avoid – their fears. The goal is for patients to experience decreasing anxiety over time through ongoing exposure. This is practiced in a safe, supportive environment and will be monitored and guided by our compassionate medical professionals.

Eating Disorder Outpatient Clinic

Penn State Children’s Hospital offers an eating disorder outpatient clinic on weekdays. This dedicated clinic provides medical evaluation and management, as well as nutritional management and individual, group or family psychotherapy. Psychiatric assessments and treatment are provided if needed. Our team sees patients on an ongoing basis for treatment until they have recovered from their eating disorder.

Intensive Outpatient Program

The Intensive Outpatient Program at Penn State Children’s Hospital includes structured sessions three days per week for three hours each session. Each group session includes:

  • Psychoeducational groups
  • Psychodynamic-oriented group therapy
  • Meal-time group

In addition to weekly group sessions, each of our patients receives nutritional counseling, as well as regular psychiatric and medical evaluations to assess their progress.

Partial Hospitalization Program

The Partial Hospitalization Program at Penn State Children’s Hospital meets five days a week, providing a more intensive group therapy structure for our patients. Each group session includes:

  • Psychoeducational groups
  • Psychodynamic-oriented group therapy
  • Yoga, music, art and pet therapy
  • Two meals a day and a snack
  • Educational instruction (young patient program)

A personalized treatment plan - including individual, family, and group therapy - is designed to address each patient’s specific needs and goals. Psychiatric evaluation and medication are available as well as regular medical evaluations to assess progress. Penn State Children’s Hospital offers a children and young patient program for ages 8 to 17 and an adolescent and adult program for patients aged 17 and older. Families who live at least an hour away are eligible to stay at the Ronald McDonald House located one block from the clinic.

Support Groups

Support groups provide children and their families an opportunity to connect with others in similar situations. Learn more about the support groups offered at Penn State Children’s Hospital.

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Our Convenient Locations

Find the care your family needs, close to home, at one of our many locations throughout central Pennsylvania.

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