Preadolescent Eating Disorder Patients Are Overwhelmed By The Pressures of Growing Up

By John Lavitt 09/13/16

One major issue for younger ED patients is that they do not purchase or prepare meals which leaves them unable to control what they eat. 

Preadolescent Eating Disorder Patients Are Overwhelmed By The Pressures of Growing Up

With three eating disorder (ED) specialized facilities in Missouri, McCallum Place has become one of the first treatment centers to institute a specialized track for preadolescents ages 6 to 12. Highlighting family dynamics, its treatment approach focuses on how the demands and pressures within the family structure can place stress on a child as they transition to adolescence. Providing both residential and partial-hospitalization levels of care, the goal of the center is to provide a safe space where recovery can be nurtured.

As Dr. Kimberli McCallum, founder and medical director of McCallum Place, explained, “Putting these young people in teen groups would be over-stimulating for them.” Although McCallum Place plans to create a completely separate unit for the pre-teen population, there is some shared space between the pre-teens and teenagers. 

As a Certified Eating Disorders Specialist and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Los Angeles-based nutrition therapist Robyn L. Goldberg told The Fix why treating such ultra-young patients is so difficult. “Eating disorders among preadolescents can be very challenging due to the history of trauma and control," said Goldberg. "These clients have oftentimes learned their food rules and negative self-talk from family members that haven’t resolved their issues centered around food.” 

Since the bodies and the brains of pre-teens are in such a state of flux, a variety of issues must be addressed while others need to be avoided. It is for the most part believed to be inappropriate to address issues with emerging sexuality with preadolescents. As a result, McCallum tends to focus the emphasis of such treatment on family structures and dynamics. Although popular culture and advertising manipulations greatly affect these young patients, the family is thought to be at the heart of the problem. 

McCallum believes that food control and politics must be addressed within the family unit. A problem for younger patients is that they simply do not have the ability to control what they eat. They tend not to be the ones purchasing the food or preparing the meals. The center encourages families to participate in the recovery process. 

As a nutrition therapist who promotes an interactive relationship with clients on her website, Goldberg agrees with this approach. “When a preadolescent has an opportunity to go into inpatient for her/his eating disorder, this individual has been given a chance to work on creating a place of security and independence where the brain can begin to change through proper nourishment," she said.

"Being the youngest clients, they are open to being led in a healthy direction and towards recovery. With sufficient treatment and ongoing support, preadolescents can be taught how to create strong boundaries through the promotion of self-care and self-love.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.