How to talk to your teen about eating disorders

Being a teenager is hard between peer pressure and physical and emotional changes, many teens develop eating disorders. To help protect your child, it is important to understand the signs of an eating disorder and know how to talk to your son or daughter about healthy eating habits.

Signs and symptoms of teen eating disorders

Watch for eating patterns and actions that might signal unhealthy behavior. Some red flags include:

  • Extreme weight loss or lack of regular developmental weight gain
  • Frequently skipping meals or refusing to eat
  • Excessive focus on food
  • Over worrying or complaining about being fat
  • Using laxatives, diuretics, or enemas after eating when
  • Vomit or exercising too much to keep from gaining weight after bingeing
  • Episodes of eating abnormally large amounts of food in one sitting
  • Expressing depression, disgust, or guilt about eating habits

Preventing eating disorders in teens

Talk to your son or daughter about eating habits and body image. To get started:

  • Encourage healthy-eating habits. Discuss how diet can affect your health, appearance, and energy level. Encourage your teen to eat when he or she is hungry. Eat together as a family.
  • Discuss media messages. Television programs, movies, and social media can send the message that only a certain body type is acceptable. Encourage your teen to question what he or she has seen or heard.
  • Promote a healthy body image. Talk to your teen about his or her self-image and offer reassurance that healthy body shapes vary. Don’t make or allow hurtful nicknames, comments, or jokes based on a person’s physical characteristics, weight, or body shape.
  • Foster self-esteem. Respect your teen’s accomplishments, and support his or her goals. Listen when your teen speaks. Look for positive qualities in your teen, such as curiosity, generosity, and a sense of humor. Remind your teen that your love and acceptance are unconditional — not based on his or her weight or appearance.
  • Share the dangers of dieting and emotional eating. Explain that dieting can hurt your teen’s nutrition, growth, and health, and lead to an eating disorder. Remind your teen that eating or controlling his or her diet isn’t a healthy way to cope with emotions. Instead, encourage your teen to talk to loved ones, friends, or a counselor about problems he or she might be facing.

Help for teens with eating disorders

Remember your teen follows your lead. If you’re constantly dieting, using food to cope with your emotions, or talking about losing weight, you might have a hard time encouraging your teen to eat a healthy diet or feel satisfied with his or her appearance. Instead, set a good example with your lifestyle choices and take pride in your body.

If your teen is diagnosed with an eating disorder, talk to your doctor about treatment. Whatever the treatment plan, remember that early intervention is the first step to recovery and a healthy future for your child.

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