The prevalence of eating disorders in teens has been on the rise over the past two decades.
Due to the anxiety and stress unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence and severity of eating disorders is spiking even more, particularly in adolescents and young adults. If you are concerned your child or teen may be exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, finding help and intervening early is crucial.
Now, let’s talk about prevention of Eating Disorders in Teens and Adolescents. If we can reduce the risk factors for eating disorders, then we can reduce the chances that a person will go on to develop an eating disorder. One of the best ways to prevent your child or a child you know from developing an eating disorder is to adopt healthy attitudes and behaviors around food, weight, and health.
Here are some tips to help prevent Eating Disorders in Teens and Adolescents:
- Learn the facts about eating disorders, and then educate your child. Learn everything you can about anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and other types of eating disorders. Having awareness will help you avoid mistaken attitudes about food, weight, body shape, and eating disorders. This will also help you spot warning signs of an eating disorder and intervene early. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child frankly about eating disorders. You won’t give them bad ideas or initiate disordered behaviors. Instead, you will help them have a better understanding of the dangers of trying to change their body shape through dieting or other unhealthy measures.
- Challenge society’s beliefs about weight and the thin ideal. Your teen is likely hearing from multiple sources that thinner means healthier and happier. While there have been great strides in the direction of body positivity and inclusivity, there is still a preoccupation with the thin ideal. Challenging these beliefs yourself is a great way to role model for your child that they are more than their body. Celebrate the diversity of human bodies! Help your child learn to value themselves for their talents, character, goals, and accomplishments.
- Talk about food positively. Dieting is a known risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Consider how you can role model a positive relationship with food for your child. Have a variety of nutritious and fun foods in the house at all times and include them in your own diet. Avoid criticizing your own or your child’s eating choices; respect their decisions on what and how much to eat. If you’re worried about your own or your child’s eating habits, consult with a registered dietitian who specializes in disordered eating to help you sort out your concerns.
- Be aware of self-judgment and judgment of others based on body shape and size. With every negative observation you make about someone else’s body, your own body, or your child’s body, you are sending a clear message to your child that thinner and fitter is better in all aspects. Inevitably, they are going to internalize that and look at themselves with a critical view. Will that by itself cause an eating disorder to develop? Maybe not. But body dissatisfaction is one ingredient in the recipe that cooks up an eating disorder. And body dissatisfaction affects overall self-esteem and self-worth.Developing body positivity for yourself as a parent may feel like an enormous leap, which is understandable as you’ve also grown up in our thin-obsessed culture. Preventing your child from developing an eating disorder doesn’t require you to have unconditional positive regard for your own body but becoming aware of your own biases and judgments of body shape and size and cutting out the critical comments is a great step in the right direction. Model positive self-talk for your child!
- Monitor social media. Pro-eating disorder messages are no longer only found with a Google search; social media sites have increasingly served as platforms for people to share their diet tips, weight loss journeys, and eating disorder behaviors. These videos, pictures, and messages can pop into your teen’s social media feed without their consent. Talk with your teen about what they are seeing on social media. Work with them on blocking harmful messages and following body positive posts.
- Be aware of what’s happening at school. Because we live in a weight-obsessed society, health classes and physical education classes are often fraught with distorted messages about health, well-being, and weight. Be aware of what is on the curriculum and how the teacher is approaching the topics about weight, food, and health. Talk with your child about what they notice their peers are saying about body image, food, etc. They may be hearing distorted messages and it helps to have an adult’s help in sorting out helpful and unhelpful language.
Article by: Rebecca Stetzer, RD, CD
Rebecca is one of the team of Dietitians at Erica Leon Nutrition. She specializes in weight-inclusive nutrition therapy counseling for a variety of health conditions, but primarily eating disorders and disordered eating/body image concerns, gastrointestinal disorders, family and child feeding concerns, and cardiovascular conditions. Learn more about Rebeccca.
If you need help or have more questions, please reach out. Start by booking a call with Erica, our practice owner, and she will talk with your to determine the best dietitian on our team to work with you.
Are you ready to make peace with food and your body image and get off the diet roller coaster for good?
Download and read our Intuitive Eating Guide, the 3 Steps to Making Peace with Food and Your Body Image.
This guide is for you if you are…
- Not in the mood to count calories constantly.
- Always thinking about food as either “Good” or “Bad”.
- Feeling ashamed for doing everything “perfectly,” only to “blow it” by overeating.
- Struggling with anorexia, bulimia, or other eating problems.
- Wanting to avoid passing on your eating struggles and issues to your children.