Teen Eating Disorders

Are You Worried About Your Teen’s Relationship With Food?

  • Have you noticed a change in your teen’s eating habits, exercise routine or weight?
  • Has your teen complained of stomach problems and stayed home from school in pain, but doctors have found nothing wrong?
  • Does your teen often make negative comments about his or her body?
  • Have you recently discovered that your teen’s friend is struggling with an eating disorder, and now you worry that your teen will develop one as well?
  • Do you wish you could help your teen form a healthy relationship with food and understand his or her worth?

Teen Eating Disorders - Hilo, HI - Stephanie Dodge, PhD

Teen eating disorders can manifest in many different ways. Perhaps you have noticed that your teen is always finding a way to avoid being around food or eating in front of others. Or, your teen might help make dinner for the whole family, but then eat very little. Maybe your teen is spending more time in the bathroom, and you worry that he or she might be purging. Your teen may be spending a lot of time exercising or going to the gym, and you notice that he or she seems very anxious when unable to exercise or prepare his or her own meals. Perhaps your teen was overweight until recently, and you were originally proud of his or her weight loss, but now the dieting seems out of control.

Maybe your teen is overweight or obese, and you worry about his or her long-term health. Perhaps your teen is a normal weight, but expresses a concerning attitude about food. Your teen might have frequent stomach pain or digestion issues, and you may not know if this is a sign of an eating disorder or something else. Regardless of the exact nature of your teen’s worrisome behavior, you may feel guilty and wonder if your teen has adopted some of your own eating or dieting habits. Maybe you just aren’t sure how to help your teen feel happy and healthy again.

Many Teens Struggle With Eating Issues and Poor Body Image

Adolescence is a difficult, confusing time. As they face all of the changes that come with adolescence, including school, social groups, dating and puberty, many teens feel uncomfortable in their own skin. As teens grow older, they become more and more aware of how others perceive them, which can lead to low self-confidence and self-worth. Our culture places a great deal of pressure on teens, especially girls, to have the “perfect body.” It can be difficult for teens to avoid comparing themselves to the models, actors and musicians that they see every day.

In addition, our society has a broken relationship with food. While the media projects a perfect beauty ideal, junk food is made more and more convenient. Due in part to our busy lifestyles and the accessibility of fast food, many Americans are now overweight or obese.

If your teen is complaining of stomach pain although doctors are unable to find anything wrong, it is important to know that anxiety and depression often cause physiological symptoms. Even if you cannot get a clear medical diagnosis, there is still hope that your teen can find relief from these somatic issues.

Regardless of the signs or symptoms you are noticing today, you and your teen are not alone. With help, support and guidance, you and your teen can begin to find relief from teen eating disorders.

Therapy Can Help Your Teen Develop Greater Self-Love

Eating disorder treatment has improved dramatically over the past few decades. Today, the majority of teens struggling with an eating disorder can enjoy a full recovery, especially if treatment begins early. Even if you are just beginning to notice the signs of teen eating disorders or suspect that something is wrong, it is never too early to seek help. In therapy sessions, I can help your teen develop a healthy relationship with stress, food and his or her body.

During our work together, I will give your teen a thorough evaluation so that we can uncover the root of the problem. I can determine whether or not your teen is struggling with anxiety and/or depression, which often go hand-in-hand with unexplained stomach pains and teen eating disorders. Once we have a clear diagnosis, we can help your teen begin to feel better.

Your teen can talk to me without any fear of judgment. Sessions are a safe place for him or her to discuss body image issues and any other worries. I can help your teen develop effective ways to cope with his or her anxieties surrounding food so that he or she can enjoy a balanced diet. If your teen has types of food that he or she avoids, I will help re-integrate those food groups as your teen rebuilds a healthy relationship with food.

If your teen is significantly underweight, I will work with you during the process of re-feeding. The brain cannot function to its fullest ability when the body is underweight, so getting your teen to a healthy weight will be our first priority. I have worked in integrated care with medical doctors, and can offer you support and guidance as you navigate the health care system. Together, we can get your teen the care that he or she needs.

While teen eating disorders can be very serious and frightening, your teen can recover. Therapy can help your teen develop the skills he or she needs to feel better and sustain a healthy relationship with food for the rest of his or her life. Your teen can come to understand that he or she is worth more than his or her weight.  I will also help you challenge your own feelings of guilt related to eating, as many parents are concerned that their own eating habits have impacted their teen’s relationship with food.

You may think that therapy can help your teen, but have questions or concerns…

My teen refuses to come to therapy for teen eating disorders.

If you teen does not want to come to therapy, I can still offer you support and guidance so that you can begin to help him or her at home. As an experienced therapist, I can educate you on how eating disorders function. I can also offer you information about teen anxiety and depression. Together, we can consider strategies for encouraging your teen to come to therapy. If your teen is underweight and won’t stop dieting, I can help you communicate with a pediatrician. As a team, we can get your teen the help he or she needs in order to heal and grow healthy again.

I don’t know if I should really be concerned or not. And, if my teen really is sick, won’t he or she be sent away?

Many people with eating disorders become experts at hiding their symptoms and behaviors. Sneaking around and making excuses to avoid food is itself a symptom of an eating disorder. And, some eating disorders do not result in dramatic weight loss. While you may not be certain whether or not your teen is engaging in harmful behaviors, therapy can help you get a clearer picture of what is going on. With a thorough evaluation, you can help your teen address what is okay and what isn’t. Even if your teen is not struggling with an eating disorder, we can address the anxiety or depression that may be altering his or her mood and/or diet.

If I determine that your teen is in medical danger, I will do all I can to secure effective treatment. While some teens do require in-patient care, there are treatment centers on Maui and Oahu, so your teen will not have to go to the mainland. This will only become necessary if your teen is in need of immediate, intensive care due to severe weight loss or malnutrition. If your teen seems severely underweight, I encourage you to seek help soon.

Whether your teen is just beginning to develop an eating disorder or is in need of medical care, early intervention can make a huge difference in his or her long-term well-being. I can support you and guide you through this process until your teen is feeling better and managing food on his or her own.

I think this is all my fault.

Teen eating disorders can bring up great deal of shame and guilt for parents. Feeding your child is one of the most basic aspects of parenting, and when your child will not eat it can be extremely distressing. But, you have not failed, and this is not your fault. Even if you have also struggled with poor body image, diets or over-eating, you have not caused your teen to have an eating disorder. Family dynamics are only one small factor.

Our society holds up an impossible model of how to look, all while offering convenient junk food. It is easy to fall into bad habits, especially if you are busy balancing all of the other aspects of your life. If you feel that your family as a whole struggles with healthy eating, I can work with you to change those habits.

If you are worried about your teen’s health, I invite you to call (808) 747 3445 for a free 15-20-minute phone consultation. I’m happy to answer questions you have about teen eating disorders and my practice.

Other Information:

National Institute of Mental Health: Eating Disorders: About More Than Food

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Eating Disorders in Teens

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