teen weight loss program

Helping Teens Overcome Obesity

Elk River provides an individualized treatment program that includes counseling, fitness and nutritional education

Teen Weight Loss & Healthy Lifestyles

Helping your teen recognize an unhealthy relationship to food

Elk River Treatment Program (ERTP) helps teens turn an unhealthy relationship with food into a lifelong healthy relationship. Using a combination of individual, group and family therapy, along with physical activities and a healthy diet, teens learn to make positive choices while maintaining a healthier lifestyle.

Unfortunately the stigma associated with teens who are overweight or obese prompts teasing and bullying by friends, family, educators, media and healthcare professionals who passively or aggressively label them as lazy, sloppy or weak willed. Such negative experiences can lead to lifelong struggles with isolation, anxiety and depression.

Drastically changing the intake of food and increasing physical activity will almost always lead to weight loss, but the weight will inevitably return unless the child's unhealthy relationship with food is addressed.

"We look at overeating or eating unhealthy as maladaptive behavior," explained Penny Baker, Chief Clinical Officer at Elk River Treatment Program for adolescents. Baker is a licensed professional counselor who supervises other mental health professionals as they work toward earning licensure. She has provided therapeutic services to adolescents and teens for more than 35 years. Baker explains that food can be used as a vehicle to divert attention from difficult issues or negative feelings.

ERTP should not be viewed as a teen weight loss program. "Our focus is not on a child's weight. We are more interested in why they're overeating and the pain that they are avoiding," Baker said.

With the help of mental health professionals like Baker at ERTP, teens learn to recognize the core issue driving the "need to feed" and replace it with healthier life choices.

Teen weight loss before and after

Before arriving to ERTP in 2011, Cameron said he basically sat at his computer all day. Always a shy “giant” compared to his classmates, Cameron lost confidence in himself and began to isolate. Soon he began staying up all night playing video games with his new “friends” and refused to go to school. The last straw for his parents was when Cameron dropped out of high school. That’s when they found Elk River Treatment Program and the positive outcome was “unbelievable” according to Cameron’s mother, Christie.

All clients of Elk River receive an individualized treatment plan that includes a well-balanced diet that meets their individual needs. Meals are planned by a registered dietician and prepared at the facility's commercial kitchen. Cameron worked hard to overcome his sedentary lifestyle and his need to fill every moment with food or video games. He left Elk River 100 pounds lighter and took with him a long-term strategy to remain emotionally and physically strong.

Almost a decade later in 2020, Cameron graduated from college with a double major and looks healthier than ever.

Elk River Teen Treatment Program

No Frills Teen Weight Loss Plan

There is little comparison between Elk River Treatment Program and a program that emphasizes teen weight loss. Elk River is rustic by design and far from a sterile clinical setting. ERTP's Founder and CEO Karen Lee, along with a group of medical professionals, designed the program to utilize the benefits of the beautiful 120+ acres surrounding the facility, yet not be a wilderness program. Clients are busy daily working on vocational projects or experiential education when not in school or participating in group or individual therapy sessions.

Clients visit a registered nurse in the clinic daily (sometimes twice per day depending on medication requirements) yet Elk River is not a hospital. The school on site is accredited by Cognia (formerly AdvancED) and our clients spent either mornings or afternoons in school at an individual work station, supported by certified teachers in the classroom, yet Elk River is not a boarding school.

"We spent months in 2005 gathering information about other adolescent programs across the country, pulled out what we thought were the best qualities of mental health hospitals and wilderness settings, and developed Elk River Treatment Program," Ms. Lee said.

Teens who have grown accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle with eyes glued to a screen suddenly find themselves in intense therapeutic treatment program, physically active the entire day without their mobile devices. They are emotionally and physically drained at mealtime because they are finally dealing with painful personal issues that occurred prior to arrival at Elk River. These painful issues have festered over time and are difficult to face. Our clients eat because they have worked hard and are hungry - not because they need to fill an emotional void.

The Importance of Family Involvement

All clients of ERTP receive individualized treatment plans that combine intensive counseling, fitness and nutrition education in addition to group and family therapy sessions. "It is extremely important for the family to be a part of the treatment team at Elk River," Baker said.

If one parent is obese, there is a 50% chance that his or her child will also face obesity. If both parents are obese, their child or children have an 80% chance of being obese as well, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Less than 1% of all obesity is caused by physical problems. Obesity in children can be related to:

  • Eating habits
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Family history
  • Lack of sleep
  • Family dynamics such as income, living conditions, divorce, abuse
  • Trauma
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mental illness such as depression

Parents of an obese child can improve their child's self-esteem by emphasizing their strengths and positive qualities rather than just focusing on their weight. The perfect time for parents to exercise self-care is while their child is in treatment including, but not limited to, family therapy.

ERTP's licensed mental health professionals provide weekly progress reports to parents/guardians and host in-person family therapy workshops on a monthly basis. Parents learn family-based problem solving, expressive communication, healthy limit setting and nurturing techniques. Workshops are intended to help families reconnect while working together on a plan for long-term success.

Topics explored in family therapy include, but are not limited to:

  • Depression
  • Self-esteem
  • Food dependence/addiction
  • Co-dependency
  • Stress management
  • Limit setting/boundaries
  • Healthy self-nurturing behaviors

Our highly trained and caring staff work with clients and their families to promote healthy food choices, physical conditioning, and academic success to grow the confidence a teen needs to stop excessive behaviors and pursue healthier, more active lifestyles. ERTP's healthy lifestyle component equips teens with the tools needed to build self-confidence and the motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Lifestyle Change is the Ultimate Goal

Weight loss for anyone struggling with obesity is a positive change. However, at Elk River Treatment Program, we strive for more than weight loss. Our goal is long-term lifestyle changes that include a healthy relationship with food, exercise and emotional self care.

Consider the alternative long-term health effects if obesity continues:

Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults.

Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple Myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.