Talking to Your Teen about Eating Disorders

Sep 28, 2020

As a parent, it is essential to have open and honest conversations with your teenager about sensitive topics such as eating disorders. Adolescence can be a challenging time, and many teenagers may experience body image concerns or engage in harmful eating behaviors. Muir Diablo Occupational Medicine is committed to providing comprehensive resources and guidance to help you navigate this important conversation with your teen.

Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that affect individuals of all ages, including teenagers. They are characterized by abnormal eating habits and distorted thoughts about body weight and shape. The most common types of eating disorders among teens include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: An eating disorder marked by an intense fear of gaining weight, resulting in self-imposed starvation and extreme weight loss.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: An eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or the misuse of laxatives.
  • Binge Eating Disorder: A condition where individuals frequently consume large quantities of food in a short period, often feeling out of control and experiencing guilt or shame afterwards.

It is crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders so that you can provide the necessary support and assistance to your teenager. Common indicators may include:

  • Drastic weight loss or gain
  • Obsession with food, calories, or dieting
  • Avoidance of social activities involving food
  • Excessive exercise
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Body dissatisfaction
  • Preoccupation with body image

Starting the Conversation

Approaching the topic of eating disorders with your teenager requires sensitivity and empathy. Here are some strategies to effectively start and navigate the conversation:

1. Choose the Right Time and Place

Find a quiet and comfortable setting where you both feel relaxed and uninterrupted. Avoid discussing the topic during mealtimes or when either of you is feeling stressed or preoccupied.

2. Educate Yourself

Before initiating the conversation, educate yourself about eating disorders. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and available treatments will enable you to provide accurate information and support.

3. Be Non-Judgmental

Approach the discussion with a non-judgmental and caring attitude. Make it clear that your intention is to help and support, not to criticize or blame.

4. Express Concern

Share your observations or concerns about any changes you've noticed in their behavior or appearance. Use "I" statements to emphasize that your worry comes from a place of love and care.

5. Listen Actively

Be an active listener during the conversation. Encourage your teenager to express their thoughts and emotions openly. Avoid interrupting or dismissing their feelings.

Providing Emotional Support

After initiating the conversation, it's vital to continue providing ongoing emotional support to your teenager. Here are some steps you can take:

1. Encourage Professional Help

If you suspect your teenager may be struggling with an eating disorder, encourage them to seek professional help. Consult with a healthcare provider or a mental health specialist who specializes in treating eating disorders.

2. Foster a Healthy Environment

Create a positive and supportive environment at home by promoting healthy body image and self-esteem. Encourage your teenager to engage in activities they enjoy and focus on their passions rather than their appearance.

3. Offer Resources and Education

Provide your teenager with educational resources such as books, articles, or documentaries that promote body positivity and self-acceptance. This can help them develop a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

4. Involve a Support System

Encourage your teenager to connect with support groups or online communities where they can meet others who have experienced similar challenges. Additionally, consider involving trusted family members or close friends who can offer additional support.

5. Monitor Progress and Maintain Communication

Regularly check in with your teenager to monitor their progress and offer ongoing support. Maintain open lines of communication and be available to listen whenever they need to talk.


Talking to your teenager about eating disorders is an essential step in providing them with the necessary support, understanding, and resources. By approaching the conversation with empathy, knowledge, and ongoing emotional support, you can help your teenager navigate their journey towards recovery and overall well-being. Remember, Muir Diablo Occupational Medicine is here to support you every step of the way.