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Teens and Eating Disorders

Children Emotional Health Parenting

Teens and Eating Disorders

Discussing body image and eating disorders is difficult, but it is important to create a safe place for your teens to express what they are going through.

Part of the Eating Disorders Series

  1. Eating Disorders
  2. Signs and Symptoms
  3. The Fight with Food
  4. Teens and Eating Disorders
  5. The Trap of Eating Disorders
  6. Food for Thought

There are several things you can do, besides talking to your preteen about body changes to expect during puberty, to help prevent an eating disorder in your teen. Creating a safe space to discuss difficult topics is the first step. Here are a few things to think about in regards to teens and eating disorders:

Examine your own attitudes and behaviors regarding weight and appearance. Talk with your children about genetic differences in body types and the devastating effects of irrational prejudice.

Examine what you are modeling. Do you exhibit acceptance of yourself and take appropriate measures to deal with your body function and size, or do you practice self-condemnation, criticism of your spouse’s body, extreme dieting, etc.? Do you allow for imperfection or do you strive for perfection in your household?

Examine your dreams and goals for your teens and other loved ones. Are you overemphasizing physical appearance and body shape, especially for girls?

Don’t shame or ridicule your teen (verbally or nonverbally). Parents who do can send your child careening toward an eating disorder. Children need to know they are loved unconditionally. And since feeling helpless and out of control is common among eating-disordered individuals, stability and healthy relationships within families are extremely importance.

Be aware of the messages you send about the “chubby child” in your family. Do you communicate, through words and action, positive or negative feelings about his or her value, talents, and lovability?

Don’t encourage or force your children to diet. It can actually push your kids toward unhealthy eating patterns that last a lifetime. The best approach is to simply provide balanced, nutritious meals.

Be involved and offer appropriate direction. Abdicating your parental role by offering your children too little direction can also be just as damaging as controlling to tightly. It can leave children feeling left adrift.

Don’t say things that make your child feel responsible for your well-being or the well-being of others in the family.

Help to develop your teen’s critical thinking skills by talking about celebrities whose lives are dysfunctional and filled with problems in spite of having the “perfect” body. Or do some research on how magazine photos are airbrushed and how movies use “body doubles.” Young people who realize that “perfection” is not always what it seems are better able to establish realistic standards for themselves.

Avoid categorizing foods as “good” or “bad.”

Be a good role model by eating sensibly, using exercise as a path to good health and enjoyment.

Do not avoid activities (such as swimming, water skiing, etc.) because they call attention to your size and shape.

Do whatever you can to encourage your teenager’s self-respect based on intellectual, spiritual, athletic and social endeavors.

Practice complimenting people for what they say, feel and do — not for how thin they are.

Help your family become discerning regarding media messages that imply a slender body means happiness and success.

Look at what’s wrong with the message “thin is best” rather than focusing on what’s wrong with your body.

Use caution when exposing high-risk teens to anti-eating disorder materials. Books, documentaries and pamphlets warning against disordered eating have often been used by anorexics and bulimics as how-to guides.

Final Thoughts on Teens & Eating Disorders

If you suspect your teen is already developing an eating disorder, seek help immediately. Early detection and treatment can be very important, so consult with a qualified medical or mental health professional right away.

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