Are Your Teenager’s Eating Patterns Causing You Concern?
Are you concerned that your teenager may be developing an unhealthy relationship with food? Is he or she either binge eating or not eating at all? Have you noticed your teen overeating or skipping meals, gaining or losing weight or taking exercise to an unhealthy level? Does your teen often complain about his or her body, negatively compare him or herself to peers or seem overly preoccupied with personal appearance? Is food a common source of conflict in your home? Does your teen seem anxious, moody or unable to concentrate? Have there been problems with friends or at school? Do you wonder if your teenager’s unusual behaviors and feelings toward food are age and gender appropriate or if it’s a phase that he or she will grow out of? Are you struggling to communicate with your teen and help him or her develop a more healthy and positive relationship with food?
So much of our lives revolve around food, and the pressure to be thin, fit and attractive can be a hard burden to carry. This can be especially difficult for teenagers. During the adolescent years, teens are charged with figuring out who they are, how they fit into the greater world and navigating an increasingly bigger and broader social environment. They care deeply about what peers think and feeling accepted is a big deal. However, while outside pressures can influence a teen’s relationship to eating, the source of a teen’s discontent that leads to emotional eating often has little to do with food. Usually, a teen’s unhappiness, which is causing him or her to skip meals or binge eat, exercise incessantly or hate the way he or she looks, is emotionally-based. Diets and over-exercising don’t help. Until your teen identifies the root causes of pain, he or she will continue to struggle. Simply stated, happy teens don’t binge eat or starve themselves.
Eating Issues Are Very Common
If your teen is struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with food, he or she is not alone. Food – sugar in particular – may be the most commonly abused drug in the U.S. It’s socially accepted and regularly available. While food is necessary to live a healthy and active life, its abuse may indicate that there are deeper emotional issues at play. If you suspect that your teenager is “using” food to self-medicate, a BPS therapist can help.
Teenage Eating Issues Are Treatable
With the right therapist and a willingness to consider change, therapy can be extremely effective in treating teenagers with eating issues. In therapy, your teen will learn that food is not the problem, and that there is no diet or amount of willpower that can help him or her feel better. With the help of a BPS therapist, your teen can learn that the sources of his or her struggles with food are emotionally-based.
We offer counseling for eating disorders in teens that is rooted in practical approaches. Your BPS therapist can help your teen identity the root sources of his or her emotional eating and explore the feelings of shame, guilt or anger that may be associated with the actual act of eating. Your teen can explore issues of self-esteem, body image and his or her relationships with self and others.
With help, it is very possible for your teenager to develop a healthier relationship with food and learn how to better deal with complex emotions in ways that do not include food. Addressing your teen’s emotional and eating issues now can set your teen up for a much happier, healthier and more balanced life now and into adulthood.
But, you still may have questions or concerns…
My teenager insists that he or she does not have a problem.
While your child may contend that he or she doesn’t have a problem, if YOU think that there’s a problem, it’s probably time for some sort of intervention. Like drug and alcohol use, teens commonly withhold truths about how much or how often they eat.
Your BPS therapist is trained and experienced to work with teens who have eating issues – even if your teen continues to deny that a problem exists. Once your teen learns that what he or she says in therapy is confidential and trust is established between your teen and therapist, “real” conversations can occur. Your teen can talk openly about his or her eating patterns, self-doubts, social fears and body image with a trained adult in a nonthreatening way. With this, a new perspective can be created. In time and with the right help, you teen can begin to recognize that a problem exists. Once that realization occurs, healing can begin.
I’m not sure if my teen has a problem or not. It seems that a lot of teenagers – especially girls – are obsessed with body image and food.
If you suspect that there may be a problem, it’s important that you talk with an expert to help determine if your teen has an eating issue that needs to be addressed. It’s also important to realize that what is typical in a social group may not be normal or healthy. It could be that your teen and his or her peer group are engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors that seem normal to both them and their parents because “everyone is doing it.” In these situations, it’s best to use your instinct. You know your child. If something feels really off, it likely is.
I feel ashamed and guilty because of my child’s eating issues. Did I do something wrong as a parent?
What’s going on for your child is not about guilt or shame or blame. It’s about seeing the reality of the problem and addressing the issues that are causing your teen to abuse food. Your teen is not eating in a normal way and something is wrong, but that doesn’t automatically make you a bad parent. Alternatively, seeking help for your child indicates that you care and want to help your child get better. There are many emotions and situations that can lead to eating issues. What’s important now is that your teenager gets the help he or she needs to sort through deeper issues before behavioral patterns become more entrenched. With help, your teen can develop a healthier relationship with food and be a happier and more balanced person now and throughout life.
We encourage you to schedule a referral assessment with a BPS therapist, trained by BPS Director Dr. Jan Hittelman. We will work with you to determine what your teen’s specific issues are and to ensure a good match between your teenager and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.
You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match your teen with a therapist who has expertise working with adolescent eating issues.