Eating disorders can cause serious, long-term damage to children and adolescents — physically and emotionally, and may even cause death. The Pediatric Eating Disorders Center at Atlantic Health System offers a broad range of care, exclusively for patients from ages eight to 21.
“All eating disorders can have a serious impact on bone growth and overall health,” says Stephanie Levine, DO, part of the child and adolescent eating disorders team at Atlantic Health. She brings specialized training and 25 years’ experience in both general pediatrics and adolescent medicine. “Our team specializes in all aspects of eating disorders.”
Having a range of care is important, because eating disorders cover a spectrum that could include obesity, binge eating, bulimia (periods of overeating and then limiting food) and anorexia nervosa (where a child does not see themselves accurately or might not even realize they are ill).
Members of the Pediatric Eating Disorders Center at Atlantic Health System include adolescent medicine physicians — which is rare for eating disorder programs of this type — plus psychologists, psychiatrists, child life specialists, nurses, social workers, therapists and nutritionists. All have specialized training in eating disorders, and Atlantic Health System’s program has become a referral center for the Tri-State Area.
Together with the family, these specialists determine the best treatment options. Services range from outpatient counseling to different levels of intense outpatient care. For patients who need medical care to get them physically stable, Atlantic Health System also offers the option of admitting them for a short-term inpatient stay.
Parents or guardians are an important part of the treatment, too, Dr. Levine says.
“We can’t do it without them,” she says. “We use what is called ‘family-based therapy,’ where the entire family plays a significant and active role in treatment.”
It’s the only type of therapy that scientific research has shown is effective for eating disorders, she says, and it’s up to 84% effective.
“It’s very gratifying to see a child or adolescent over time go from depressed or ‘flat’ in emotion due to malnutrition, to smiling and happy,” she says. “It’s equally gratifying to hear parents say, ‘I have my child back.’”'