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Teen Eating Disorders: Dos and Don’ts For Parents


As a parent, you want your child to live a healthy and fulfilled life. You want to protect them from harm and illness from the time they are born. Unfortunately, for some teenagers, eating disorders can stop wellness in its tracks.

teen eating disorders

About 2.7 percent of teenages ages 13-18 are living with an eating disorder, which can occur in many forms. While anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are some of the most prominent types of eating disorders, some adolescents will develop a combination of disordered eating symptoms.

If your teen was recently diagnosed with an eating disorder, or you are noticing the signs and symptoms of one, you might be feeling helpless. This guide will provide some basic tips to support your teen and guide them toward recovery.

DO talk open and honestly

When you notice that your child is exhibiting the symptoms of an eating disorder, the first step is to talk to them. Do so gently and compassionately, voicing your concern for their well being. Avoid raising your voice or speaking in a confrontational way. Remember that your child may get angry or deny that they have a problem, so be patient. Once your child is diagnosed and is considering treatment, be sure to continue this support and show that you are there for them.

teen eating disorders

DON’T focus on weight or food

Even in the presence of your child’s eating disorder, avoid putting emphasis on weight or food. In general, never mention your child’s appearance, even if you mean it as a compliment. During meal times, avoid discussing calories and portion sizes. Try to make casual conversation about other parts of life, diverting attention away from food. You may also choose to ask your child’s doctor or therapist about ways to cope with meal times.

DO listen to your child

As your child’s main support system, be sure to listen attentively during one-on-one conversations. Even if you want to bring up your own concerns, give them the chance to process their emotions. Once they know they can trust you with this information, they will continue to open up over time. If you struggling with the burden of these discussions, make regular appointments with a therapist for support.

DON’T create a power struggle

One of the biggest mistakes that parents make is forcing their children to eat. Doing so will only cause your child to associate more negative feelings with food, further complicating their mental health. They may also start to feel that you are constantly monitoring their eating habits. By gently encouraging your child to eat and modeling a positive relationship with food, you can support their recovery. Remember that even if your teen ate a balanced diet in recovery, it might take time for them to resume healthy eating habits at home.

DON’T blame yourself

You may feel responsible for every aspect of your child’s health, but your parenting did not cause their eating disorder. Eating disorders are complicated mental health conditions with multiple causes, including genetics and trauma. Avoid blaming yourself for their condition and remember to spend time doing what you enjoy. By taking care of yourself, you can better support your child.

DO research treatment options

Once your teen sees a doctor about their eating disorder, you might be overwhelmed with the number of treatment options. Talk therapy, group counseling, and residential facilities for youth are just some of the treatment settings available. Speak with the doctor and do your own research about the treatment available in your area. If you are considering an inpatient facility, be sure to visit several options before you choose one.

An eating disorder diagnosis can be difficult for your whole family. However, by educating yourself and speaking openly with your teen, you can help them enter and complete recovery. While it may seem challenging at the moment, your child will eventually recover and live a vibrant, healthy life.

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