Adolescent Eating Disorder Program

We understand that many people and families who seek treatment for an eating disorder have fears or reservations about treatment. When possible, we try to “meet patients (and families) where they’re at.” We believe our program is unique in our ability to provide evidence-based treatment with warmth, compassion, and a sense of humor.

We treat adolescents with Anorexia Nervosa (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN), Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), a category that includes subclinical eating disorders and atypical eating disorders (e.g., purging disorder, exercise bulimia and weight loss complicated by functional gastro-intestinal disorders). Each individual receives a comprehensive evaluation that determines their individualized treatment plan.

As a non-profit, university-based program, we are committed to providing state-of-the-art treatments based on research and new understandings of eating disorders. Our treatment approach is designed to both aid in recovery, as well as prevent future relapses. Genetic vulnerabilities to anxiety, obsessive and perfectionistic traits predispose individuals to develop eating disorders. These traits can be modified through new coping strategies, to allow these traits to become assets rather than liabilities.

Philosophy and Treatment Approach

We believe that eating disorder behaviors are complex conditions that are caused by many factors, including biological causes. Researchers have identified specific neurobiological differences in the brains of people with eating disorders that affect how they eat, how they make decisions, and the emotions they experience. People with eating disorders often have temperaments that are predisposed to anxiety and depression, or have been exposed to stressful and traumatic life events that cause intense negative emotions. There is clear evidence that eating disorders run in families, have a strong genetic component and are brain-based disorders.

Sometimes people have the mistaken belief that individuals with eating disorders are “choosing” to have an eating disorder or doing it for attention, etc. We firmly believe that eating disorder behaviors have a function or purpose (even if it is not clear) and often develop as a way for people to cope with unwanted or unpleasant emotions. Thus, in order to recover from an eating disorder, patients need to learn other ways of coping with uncomfortable emotions. Our program’s foundation is Family Based Therapy (FBT; also known as the Maudsley approach). FBT is the only evidence-based treatment in adolescent eating disorders and adheres to the critical tenant that families play an active and positive role in treatment and recovery in order to help their child restore weight and return to normal, healthy eating patterns. Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of FBT: approximately two-thirds of adolescent AN patients are recovered at the end of FBT while 75 - 90% are fully weight recovered at five-year follow-up. In this treatment approach, training families to be integrally involved in helping their adolescent recover from an eating disorder is the foundation of treatment. As clinicians and researchers, we are the experts in eating disorders, and you are the expert on your child. By training parents in eating disorders, parents are able to take the lead in feeding their children, returning them to their hobbies, sports, and interests, and preventing future relapses.

In addition to Family Based Therapy (FBT), our program utilizes complimentary evidence based treatments to help our patients cope with their emotions, particularly anxiety, that often come up around eating and sometimes social situations. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), mindfulness, breathing exercises & techniques, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are used in group, family and individual therapy. Each of these approaches aid in teaching the adolescent skills to regulate their emotions and challenge eating disordered thoughts.

Treatment Components

Group Therapy

  • Adolescents participate in a variety of group therapies with their peers or with their families. Patients process feelings, learn coping skills, and receive support from one another. Program also incorporates weekly Family DBT Skills Group where parents and siblings learn the skills alongside the patient so that the skills can be modeled at home and everyone is speaking the same language of recovery.
  • Groups Include

    • CBT Anxiety Management
    • Interpersonal Effectiveness
    • Life Outside of Your Eating Disorder (LOUD)
    • Media Awareness
    • DBT Emotion Regulation
    • Expressive Arts
    • Process Group
    • Breathing Exercises & Techniques
    • Mindfulness

Individual Therapy

Therapists meet with teens once a week to help them recognize and challenge eating disordered thoughts and behaviors. Therapists often focus on enhancing client motivation and helping clients to apply the skills to specific challenges and events in their lives.

Family Therapy

Adolescents and their families participate in private family therapy once a week. Families also participate in multifamily groups on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, and during the day on Saturdays. The family component of this treatment has been demonstrated in research to be the most important part of an adolescent’s recovery.

Individual DBT Skills Coaching

Phone coaching is an aspect of adherent DBT that offers individualized skills coaching that’s dependent upon the patient’s needs in applying DBT skills to a variety of situations. Phone coaching is when a patient reaches out to their therapist before engaging in an ineffective behavior. In other words, if a person has an urge to do something ineffective (such as purging, restricting, self-harming, etc.), phone coaching can help that person use skills instead of acting on those urges. Phone coaching is a brief interaction that requires willingness to behavior change and will be revoked if utilized ineffectively.

Therapists are not “on call” and phone coaching is not a crisis line. Each therapist has their own limits around availability for phone coaching and will do their best to respond within a few hours if during the day.

Dietary Support

In addition to formal weekly sessions, evening/weekend phone support, and consultation to parents, our dietary support offers several weekly groups to increase client’s efficacy around meals both inside and outside of program.

  • Restaurant outings
  • Cooking class
  • Grocery outings
  • Snack selection
  • Meal planning
  • Bringing meals from home – once stepped-down to IOP, they can practice bringing in meals that they may bring to school or work.

Psychiatric/Medical Support

Each patient will be given a full psychiatric evaluation upon admission to the Adolescent Day Treatment Program. Our psychiatrist will consult with the patient’s existing psychiatrist if they have one. In addition, our psychiatrist will coordinate medical care closely with the primary care physician, ensuring ongoing medical monitoring including labs, vitals, and weight checks, weekly psychiatric sessions, medication management, and drug/alcohol screens as necessary

Therapeutic Meal

Our commercial kitchen produces all of our meals using fresh ingredients, and tailored to each individual’s meal plan. Patients can receive up to 100% of their nutrition while in program (3 meals and 2 snacks), slowly reducing to 30% of their daily nutrition (1 meal and 1 snack) as they are having increased success with meals outside of program. Dieticians and therapists attend all meals providing individual support as needed during meals.

Parent Advisory Committee

The Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) functions as an additional support system for parents with pediatric and adolescent aged children in day treatment. PAC is comprised of parents with children that are recovering from an eating disorder who have completed the UCSD Adolescent Treatment Program and would like to provide support to new parents as they enter the program. The mentoring program is voluntary, and parents may join or leave at any time. PAC provides an additional source of community and unique support as parents begin or continue their journey to their child’s wellness.

Treatment Programs


The primary purpose of this unit is to provide multidisciplinary treatment to children and adolescents with comorbid medical and psychiatric conditions. Our Medical Stabilization Unit has dedicated inpatient beds for medical stabilization of patients with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders. This includes those with abnormal cardiovascular function or those who are severely underweight and require nutritional restoration under medical care. The Medical Behavioral Unit (MBU) is staffed by a combination of professionals with medical expertise and with mental health and behavioral experience, including specialized experience with eating disorders. Staff includes nurses, social workers, licensed psychiatric technicians, dietitians and physicians from the hospital, adolescent medicine and child psychiatry services.

Day Treatment/PHP

Patients in our program need more support and structure than can be provided by standard outpatient treatment but are medically and psychiatrically stable enough to not require immediate hospitalization. We offer several levels of care, ranging from 6 days of Full Day Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) to 3-day Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). We do NOT offer a residential level of care because residential treatment centers (RTC’s) separate parents from their children and thus are unable to provide FBT/Maudsley – The only evidence-based treatment for adolescent eating disorders.

Like a residential program, our Partial Hospitalization program (PHP) offers a structured environment with an intense focus on patients and families learning skills for recovery but offers the important advantage of allowing the patient to continue living at home. This allows the patient and family to develop and hone skills for recovery and practice them in their home environment.

Full Day PHP


  • 3 meals and 2 snacks/day
  • 1-1.5 hour(s) of school time/day
  • Multiple therapy groups/day
  • 1 hour/week individual therapy
  • 1 hour/week family therapy
  • Multi-family groups (includes parent training, family meals/snack and parent psychoeducation)
  • Weekly appointments with a dietitian
  • Weekly psychiatry appointments
  • Weight and vitals signs obtained 3 times per week
  • Saturday family day (includes parent training, family meals, parent group)


Adolescents in our Full Day Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) attend program 6 days per week, with Saturday for family day (family meals and parent training).

Half Day PHP


  • 1 meal and 2 snacks/day (in some cases 2 meals)
  • 1-1.5 hour(s) of school time/day
  • Multiple therapy groups/day
  • 1 hour/week individual therapy
  • 1 hour/week family therapy
  • Multi-Family groups (includes parent training, family meals/snack and parent process group)
  • Weekly or bi-weekly appointments with a dietitian
  • Weekly or bi-weekly appointments with a psychiatrist
  • Weight and vitals signs obtained 3 times a week
  • Saturday family day (includes parent training, family meals, parent group)


Adolescents in our Half Day Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) attend program 6 days a week, with Saturday consisting of programming for family day (family meals and parent training).

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)


  • 1 meal and 1 snack per day
  • 1-2 therapy groups/day
  • 1 hour/week individual therapy
  • 1 hour/week family therapy
  • Vitals and weights obtained 2 times a week
  • Monthly appointment with a psychiatrist
  • Monthly appointment with a dietitian
  • 1 day/week family groups (includes parent training and family meal/snack)


Cooking Classes


Patients in our IOP program attend 3 hours of program ranging from 3 to 5 days per week as they move forward in their recovery and continue re-integrating into their normative daily routines/activities.


Our facility maintains partnerships with a variety of community organizations in an effort to aid in housing for families who do not live in the greater San Diego area, which is common for many of our families attending both day treatment and/or our Intensive Family Therapy (IFT) program.

Low cost options

  • The Ronald McDonald House
  • The Bannister Family House
  • Low cost rooms for patients and their families. There is typically a wait list, so early discussion of housing needs is important as our intake clinicians assess your family’s needs. Both are located 10+ miles from our facility, thus you will need to arrange transportation or rent a car.

Hotel rooms

  • Del Mar Inn: North of our facility in Del Mar, San Diego and offers shuttle services to and from the hotel to our facility, though obtaining private transportation is recommended. Exclusive rates are offered for families in treatment.
  • Nearby Lodging For UC San Diego Health: Hotels with discounts for UC San Diego patients and families

Hotels near our clinic

  • Residence Inn: has kitchenettes and is a few miles from our clinic.
  • You are also free to search for other hotels near our clinic that best suit your family’s needs.

How does payment work?

The majority of our patients use insurance since we are contracted with many major insurance companies. Cash payments are also accepted.

Insurance Verification Specialist
(858) 534-8019