Juggling Priorities: Navigating Eating Disorder Treatment & Extracurriculars

November 15, 2023

Your child starts exhibiting the signs of an eating disorder. You contact an eating disorder treatment center for help and receive a level of care recommendation that fits their needs. But you are unsure whether treatment is the right choice for your child at the moment. After all, they’ve made commitments to various groups, clubs, and sports—all activities that seem to be really good for them.

Understandably, you don’t want them to miss out on the extracurriculars they love. Maybe treatment can wait until the season ends, you think. Perhaps after the last game, band concert, dance recital, robotics competition, etc. If you take them out of the play, the soccer season, their choir group, you might wonder, how will they manage? The activity seems to be the only thing they engage in, the only thing that brings them joy—what if this makes things worse?

It’s understandable to have concerns about interrupting these activities. However, recovery can benefit not only your child’s overall health but also their ability to fully enjoy and excel in their extracurricular pursuits.

Acknowledging the Benefits of Extracurriculars

If extracurriculars like band, sports, theater, debate, or other activities bring your child joy and purpose, it makes sense that you want to preserve these positive elements. Maybe these activities have allowed your child to gain self-confidence and bond with peers, which is especially important given the self-doubt and isolation caused by eating disorders. Or maybe the activities seem like the only thing that affords your child a break—a temporary escape from the burden of disordered thoughts and behaviors.

It is easy to understand why you don’t want your child to miss out on a positive activity in their life. However, prioritizing treatment will not only restore your child back to health but will also open up opportunities for your child to enjoy their favorite extracurriculars without the burden of an eating disorder.

The Importance of Putting Health First

When it comes to prioritizing your child’s well-being, it’s important to recognize that treating their eating disorder must take precedence. Here’s why your child’s recovery has to come before their extracurriculars:

Eating disorders are serious illnesses

Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses with the second-highest mortality rate of any mental health illness in America. They are not a choice—they are caused by a combination of sociocultural, psychological, and biological factors. Eating disorders do not go away on their own; they need to be treated by a multidisciplinary team of experts who understand how to manage their unique medical and psychiatric complications. The Emily Program’s personalized approach to care does just that, with individualized care plans that cater to each client’s specific needs and challenges.

Often, people are unaware of the serious mental and physical consequences of diagnoses like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Eating disorders can affect virtually every organ and system in the human body, greatly reduce quality of life, and even result in life-long health issues.

Putting off treatment can cause further harm

You may think it’s better to wait for treatment until a certain time of year; that way, your child won’t have to miss their extracurriculars. However, these illnesses need treatment as soon as possible. Eating disorders are inherently harmful, and the longer they go untreated, the greater the risk of long-term health problems. These illnesses can be especially dangerous for children and adolescents because they are in a critical stage of development physically, emotionally, and mentally. Early intervention is the key to a smoother, longer-lasting recovery.

The Positive Impact of Recovery On Extracurriculars

Having anxiety about how seeking treatment may impact your child’s routine is common. However, your child’s eating disorder consumes their life in ways that may not even be visible to you. Recovery will allow them to have more space in their life for what’s actually important to them and to truly thrive in their extracurriculars.

Here are some examples of the benefits of recovery as it relates to extracurriculars:

  • Restoring health and strength
  • Enhancing performance and engagement in extracurricular activities
  • Supplying coping mechanisms for perfectionistic tendencies, self-criticism, black-and-white thinking, and more
  • Allowing more time for social connection that was previously spent engaging in eating disorder behaviors

It’s understandable to be concerned about pulling your child out of their routine and the extracurriculars that bring them joy and purpose, but the severity of eating disorders demands you prioritize your child’s health above all else. Getting your child help as soon as possible will set them up for better treatment outcomes, reduced risk of long-term damage, and a generally improved quality of life. After getting your child the care they need, you will likely see them thriving in their extracurriculars without their eating disorder weighing them down.


Founded in 1993, The Emily Program is nationally recognized for our compassionate and personalized approach to eating disorder awareness, treatment, and lifetime recovery. We understand the tangled complexities of eating disorders, often from personal experiences. We know that you’re not defined by your eating disorder, and our team of experts—including therapists, dietitians, and medical staff—focuses on treating the whole person. We provide an integrative approach for people of all ages and genders who struggle with eating disorders and related mental health and body image issues. The Emily Program care teams bring decades of experience managing the unique medical and psychiatric complications of eating disorders. With convenient locations in MN, OH, PA, and WA or within a virtual environment, The Emily Program is here to help you no matter where you live.