Does your teen worry about weight? Are you on the path to an eating disorder?



As a teen, I worried I was too thin. I know that’s the opposite problem of most teens but it was something I worried about ALL the time and became extremely self-conscious about.

Now, I see my teen son who is very thin worrying as well. He’s constantly trying to bulk up, which doesn’t come naturally for his body type. Watching him is making me concerned. I have a friend who just quit her job to “be there” for her daughter who stopped eating school lunches, then dinners, then breakfast. Though she seemed a normal weight, finally, she was hospitalized from exhaustion. My friend is distraught.

Coping with society’s pressure to be the perfect weight is a problem for teens — girls and boys. The scary part is that teens can have eating disorders even if they appear a normal weight or heavy.

We may not realize it, but we as parents play a big role in our teen’s obsession with weight. As a parent, I find myself encouraging my thin son to eat more and my less thin teen daughter to eat less. Sometimes, I don’t even realize I’m doing it. Do you ever find yourself pushing your teen to eat more or eat less?

A new study shows parents’ attitudes toward dinner, and about food in general, can have a large impact on our teen’s eating habits.

The Journal of Adolescent Health finds that many teenagers have a negative attitude about food consumption learned from their parents. It suggests that parents should be involved in making sure their teen is eating healthy food, but they should avoid demanding how much he or she should eat or not eat.

Guess what parents? The study authors  fount it was the boys who reported more eating disorder symptoms from their parents.

The latest frustration for parents is that a dangerous teen obsession with the perfect body has gone viral. Apparently, teen girls are fixating on the “thigh gap”, in which slender legs, when standing with feet together, do not touch. It’s horrifying!

On Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook, “thigh gap” photos abound: close-ups of sometimes unbearably skinny legs published by young girls eager to show off their success – or bemoan what they see as a failure to whittle away fat.

How sad is that?

Making matters worse, right about this time of year, many schools today are sending home “fat” letters. They are weighing students and sending home reports about whether a child’s BMI (body mass index) is healthy or unhealthy. As many as 19 states are having schools conduct such weigh-ins, according to ABC News, and many doctors (including the American Academy of Pediatrics) say that such measures are a helpful tool in fighting childhood obesity.

But many parents are less sure. Many are not thrilled with the idea of their child being weighed in school. It can be particularly a problem for girls, who may feel stress about the number on the scale when they are being weighed alongside peers.’s Katherine Lee has some interesting advice on how to handle a “fat” letter.

Here’s another big concern: Overweight and obese children and teens who lose weight are at significant risk for developing eating disorders, but their symptoms are often overlooked by parents and doctors. Yes, someone can be overweight and anorexic at the same time.

So, what can we do as parents to help our teen cope with society’s pressure to be the perfect weight? brought in an expert who makes these four recommendations: 

1. Don’t emphasize weight; instead, talk about health and strength.

2. Talk about eating disorders. In a technologically-advanced age where the Internet is readily available and awash in websites that actually champion eating disorders, it’s important that parents not shy away from these difficult subjects. Talk to your teen about  the real-life consequences of damaging bodies and minds in such a manner.

3. Think about the behavior you are modeling. Even at the tween or teen stage when your teen seems to think that you’re out of touch, she’s still watching you for cues and her world view is still being shaped by the behavior she observes from you.

4. Take advantage of everyday talking points. When you’re watching television with your teen, take the opportunity to talk about unrealistic images, the way that photographs are routinely doctored in order to make models seem perfect. With a girl, make sure she understands that her body is the vehicle that allows her to accomplish the things she wants to accomplish and is capable of amazing physical feats, but that the way it looks is not what defines her.

I’ve decided to back off from encouraging my son to bulk up or my daughter to exercise more. Experts say eating disorders, depression and self-esteem issues can all be a slippery slope that can be difficult to return from. 

Parents, how have you handled weight concerns with your teens? Do you think any discussion of weight leads down a bad path?

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